Usually by about the middle of October of an election year I feel like I’m going insane. I hear things on TV that have no relationship to reality. Lots of things. Most of those things are political advertisements. But there’s also a great deal of discussion in the news media about the election and the campaigns that have no relationship to reality. Political writers and commentators talk about what candidates are saying, and the ads they run, as if there is some substance or some value to the message conveyed, when in fact there is not. There are literally a gazillion examples, but here’s one from my Congressional district from the 2012 Congressional campaign.
The election pitted the incumbent, Ben Chandler, against a Republican challenger named Andy Barr. Barr ran a couple of ads with a guy dressed like a coal miner who was talking about how the coal industry has been shrinking and mining jobs have been lost, all because of what the ad (and conservatives) call “Obama’s war on coal.” The ad was shrill and silly and completely missed the reality of job losses in the coal industry: the steep decline in the price of natural gas. I rolled my eyes at the ad. It was typical Republican nonsense. But then Ben Chandler ran a competing ad where the “miner” in the ad is circled, and the word “liar” is written next to it. It turns out the guy in the ad is not really a coal miner, but a coal company executive. It also turns out that the guy has a miners’ certificate because he actually worked in the mines during college. So he’s sort of a coal miner. He doesn’t work in the mines now, but he is in the coal industry, he did work as a miner, and he still has his certificate. So clearly he’s not a liar, but just as clearly the Barr campaign fudged a bit by implying that he is a miner.
That became one of the major issues in the campaign. Not the decline in mining due to changing economic conditions. Not the need for environmental regulations. Not what to do long term for Eastern Kentucky counties beset with job losses. All the media could talk about was Barr’s use of the sort-of-miner in his ads, and Chandler’s claim that they guy was a liar. And because the media was talking about it, that was about all the campaigns talked about as well. Nothing of substance; it was all nonsense, all the time. And it was insulting.
The ads treated the voters as if they were idiots. Both campaigns avoided discussion of the difficult issues, and instead ran stupid and demeaning ads. And they repeated the stupidity in sound bites and slogans. My only conclusion is that both campaigns actually thought the voters were idiots.
The term is condescension. Those ads were condescending. They talked down to the voters. They treated the public like they were unable to understand a serious discussion of serious issues.
I’m sick of political campaigns being condescending. I’m tired of politicians running ads that act like people are ignorant and ill informed. I’m tired of the sound bites, the silly slogans and the misleading commercials. Its all so condescending.
Why can’t politicians treat us – the voters, the public – like adults? Could it be that they don’t think we are smart enough to understand?