Those Infernal Attack Ads

November 02, 1994

What this country needs is a good automatic attack-ad zapper. Unwary voters, who will be besieged during this last week of the campaign with television and radio assaults by one politician on another, should have some means of protection from the lies, distortions and groin-kicks polluting the airwaves. But until technology comes to the rescue, every citizen will have to rely on her/his own resources.

That means pushing the zap button. Or the mute button. Or the scan button. Or, better yet, take a walk, visit the refrigerator, read a book.

If multi-millionaires or candidates whoring for money at fund-raisers wish to spend their cash on negative advertising, that is their privilege. But it need not disturb the life of thinking citizens who have other means to assess the character and the message of candidates seeking their votes.

With each election, the amount of money spent on attack ads grows and grows. The transplanted Texan seeking California's seat in the U.S. Senate is pumping $50 million into a campaign devoid of thought and replete with platitudes. The North campaign South of the Potomac is tapping into the rich mother lode of direct-mail rightwingism. Close to home, Marylanders can witness the spectacle of Parris Glendening feverishly trying to pump up his campaign spending to a record $6 million level for the sole purpose of inundating the airwaves in the final days. Or they can watch Ellen Sauerbrey, that enemy of state socialism, relying on a measly million bucks in public financing contributed by state taxpayers to inveigh against big government.

Unfortunately, the professionals have convinced politicians that attack ads are the only way to win elections. And unfortunately, most of the evidence suggests they are right. Too many voters allow themselves to be suckered. Too many cast their votes with about as much consideration as it takes to choose between McDonald's and Burger King.

Yet voters are angry. They don't like the system, the establishment or the duopoly represented by the two major parties. They need to turn that anger against the attack-ad virus that is undermining an informed democracy. They need to confound the spin-masters, the subliminal message artists, the dissemblers and all the other types who finance and produce the 15-second and 30-sound bites gnawing away at the body politic.

So just zap out, tune out, scan out at the first flicker of an attack ad this week. Or, if the temptation is too much, make yourself an instant analyst of the gimmicks insulting your intelligence. Then make up your own mind.

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