Negative political advertising is almost as old as America itself. In fact, Thomas Jefferson hired James Thomson Callender to write inflammatory stories about the Federalist Party, hoping no one would know that he was behind them. Callender was arrested for these articles under the Alien and Sedition Act, which made it a law not to criticize high ranking government officials. When Jefferson did not rescue him, Callender broke the story regarding an illicit relationship with slave Sally Hemmings. John Adams released ads stating that Jefferson would bring “murder, robbery, rape and incest” to the U.S. because of his support for the French Revolution. It has been nasty ever since.
The Johnson-Goldwater race in 1964 had the famed daisy ad. A little girl picked the petals off of a daisy one by one, while a voice over counted down to one, afterwards a nuclear bomb exploded, obliterating the image of the girl. The message was clear that Goldwater’s response to the cold war was to use nuclear weapons. Goldwater had a slogan, “in your heart you know he’s right.” The Johnson rebuttal was, “in your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
Every election cycle seems to get more expensive and have more extreme ads. The 2010 election will cost between $3 and 4 billion in total advertising. We will not know the final amount for several more days. But it is clearly the dirtiest on record. An ad against House Speaker Pelosi compares her to the “Wicked Witch of the West” complete with flying monkeys on a Wizard of Oz screen with her face on the witch. Nancy Pelosi’s favorable rating is 10 percent nationally, lower than former Vice President Dick Cheney, at his lowest point.
Majority Leader Reid released television ads stating that opponent Sharron Angle has been drinking “crazy juice” causing her, of course, to be crazy. The ad has a caption stating that Sharron Angle thinks “the government is poisoning you with fluoride.” An independent group, Latinos for Reform, released an ad asking Hispanics not to vote at all. This ad has been linked to Sharron Angle and other Republicans. Senator Reid’s ad states that Sharron Angle is calling for “armed resistance against the U.S. Congress.’ She countered by saying Reid wants waves of illegal aliens streaming across our border, joining violent gangs, forcing families to live in fear, giving them free social security benefits, tax breaks and college tuition.
Rep. Grayson of Florida, called his opponent Dan Webster, “Taliban Dan” and released an ad, stating that battered women should stay in abusive marriages comparing his position on women’s issues to the Taliban. Governor Manchin of West Virginia, who is running for the late Robert Byrd’s Senate seat has an ad showing him firing a shot gun against the cap and trade bill. It states that Manchin” is no liberal and he will get government off our backs.” He has the gun pointing at the screen. As a Democrat, this shows him distancing himself from President Obama and the party leadership.
Christine O’Donnell of Delaware ran an ad stating that “she is not a witch and that she is really one of us.” O’Donnell, a Tea Party candidate, has been barraged, along with the others, with a torrent of ads calling them a “veritable army of zombie grandmothers, grandfathers, veterans and neighbors hell bent on dragging the country back to the constitution, killing homosexuals and espousing crazy, radical ideas.” Other ads state that they would “tear down the 100 year safety net, succeed from the Union, advocate murder for homosexuals and lesbians and declare climate change a myth.” Not to be outdone, a pro-Tea Party Ad calls illegal immigration, a way to “bring millions of extra people into the U.S. defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs.”
One political pundit, decrying the union and corporate ads, states that “candidates and party money no longer have to do the heavy lifting on negative ads. It is being outsourced to nameless, faceless assassins who come in at night and take out the opponents.”
So now it is Election Day and this madness will be over, until the 2012 election campaign starts. If this election cost between $3 and 4 billion, without President Obama on the ballot, can one imagine how much the next election will cost? And based on this election, can one imagine just how dirty and harsh the ads will be?
Even so, we hope you voted today. If you did, you have strengthened our Democracy.
President, DC Legislative & Regulatory Services, Inc.