Outside of the US, this post may not have much resonance but anyone who has been through a democratic election will likely know what I speak of. This past Tuesday—Election Day—has come and gone, votes have been cast and counted and, whether you are happy with the outcome or not, a winner has been declared (I’m not going to grump or gloat).
But before Tuesday there was a whole lot of rhetoric, bombast, elocution, diatribe…call it what you like, it all boils down to the same thing: words. For a year and a half words have been flung about at rallies, at debates, via campaign ads, or spouted by political analysts and journalists. More words were exchanged over the dinner table, at the office and in the elevator. They were shouted at the TV, and sharply expressed out in parking lots. In the end, however, it came down to one word: “yes.” Yes, I support a particular candidate (or maybe “no” if your vote was cast against a candidate). I made my voice heard. I voted and have the sticker to prove it. That sticker is my ticket to take part in the political conversation for the next four years.
But think of all of those words used these past 18 months to entice, cajole, frighten, inform, confuse, denigrate, oppose, explain, support, illustrate, woo, argue, debunk, muddy, excite, incite, and justify. A lot of those words were strong words, some were light-hearted, some were insulting, some were uplifting, some caused self-inflicted wounds, some were hurtful to others, some were intelligent, some were ignorant, some were inspiring, some were even hateful. Some were true, some were exaggerated, some were misleading, some were false, some worked and some didn’t.
The ads—overwhelmingly negative—are a thing of the past now, at least until the next election cycle. They were relentless and ran right up to the bitter end, even on election day. It’s quieter now or at least it’s a different kind of racket. We’re back to car, beer and mattress ads. I don’t know why campaigns spend so much on political ads. Like a single word repeated over and over it soon dissolves into nonsense. The ads became just so much noise. For the last three months I don’t think anyone was hearing any of it. It seemed like my TV was muted more than half the time I had it turned on. And now there are studies showing that despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on them that maybe the ads weren’t all that effective at shaping the outcome of the election. Really? They needed to do a study to figure that out?
The thing that was dispiriting about all those words and the money thrown at them, was the way they were used. They were largely aimed at tearing down their opponent—not at educating or informing but basically whining about the other guy. It was more “look how awful he is,” rather than “this is what I am doing and what I am all about.” Despite the level of the race—local, state or national— the attacks were the same. Both sides were equally guilty. It was nasty. I wish that like doctors, writers (including the authors of political ads) would take an oath to “first, do no harm.” At least maybe then the ads would be a little more palatable. Unfortunately the next candidates for president started jockeying for position yesterday.