When asked to report on the onslaught of political ads on television words like “flood,” “deluge,” and “torrent,” will suddenly pepper copy. A report from the Borrell Associates estimates $9.8 billion will be spent on political advertising this season. Nearly 60 percent of that will be on television. Phrases like “secret money” and “shadow funders” also pop up. Conservatives, traditionally, call for transparency when it comes to money in politics. Liberals will call for limits. Right now we have neither. And nowhere is that more apparent than on your teevee.
Ask anyone in even a slightly purple state or in an even slightly contested district: Political ads are a plague come election time. And what exactly are we getting for our (estimated) $42 per potential voter? Not much.
Ads are not transparent, not fact checked and in many cases not accountable. Voters get to feel like Alex DeLarge in “A Clockwork Orange” during his aversion therapy (eye drops, anyone?) without knowing who’s footing the bill.
A way to combat this Stanley Kubrick-esque torment is just ban all political advertisements on television.
“That’s an assault on free speech.”
First off, television is not an unregulated utopia of free speech – that’s the Internet (for now, anyway). Television, like it or not, doesn’t allow everything to be broadcast. There are standards on television. Our mores may have changed over time but generally we’re still okay with decency standards for television. Speaking is speech. Broadcast is regulated.
And it’s worth noting, 99 percent of Americans have televisions in their homes. It’s still the broadest, most viewed medium we have. Which is why candidates and advocates for candidates invest billions into blanketing it.
We don’t allow tobacco companies, for example, to advertise on television. Why? Because their products are poisonous and harmful to our citizenry. The same could be said for Swift Boating, Demon Sheeping and whatever Herman Cain is doing.
These ads are supposed to sway public opinion. But these aren’t actually opinions being targeted – they’re emotions. Most Americans have less of an opinion when it comes to politics and more of a visceral reaction to issues. Which explains why your “political debate” over Thanksgiving dinner ended up with you being pummeled with green bean casserole.
And there’s no better example of where to start hysteria than in 30-second fear and loathing campaign spots. Does this elevate political discourse? Civic engagement? Sound policy? Hardly. These ads are doing what tobacco does: producing a carcinogenic cloud.
“But you’re trying to limit a candidate’s ability to get their message out!” Look, if you can’t get your message out after 23 Republican primary debates – you don’t have a message. Candidates should be out on the stump, on television, at town halls and at debates. Absolutely. It’s the anonymous sugar daddies bank rolling ads the candidates can easily divorce themselves from that I suggest discontinuing. It’s like having all the benefits of a loyal Rottweiler and none of the legal liability once it mauls your adversary.
So just ban these spots. Let the hallowed ground of 20 minutes per hour of programming be for more wholesome things like erectile dysfunction treatments or reverse home mortgages. End candidate television advertising.
“If this happens what’s to stop a ban on ALL political shows?” Ridiculous. We haven’t had cigarette commercials for half a century and we still have smoking on TV. Banning a type of advertising that erodes our elections into secret televised slush funds won’t stop political programming.
What it will do is something about this flood – this deluge – this torrent of commercials – the most in the history of interruptions – that’s drowning our discourse.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far