Demand more this election year

September 20, 2010

In his recent TV campaign ad (its called "Drive" and it can be found on YouTube,) Congressman Frank Kratovil wants to be known as a man who is outstanding in his field, although instead of standing, Mr. Kratovil is seen driving though a field — a cornfield on the Eastern Shore.

In this ad, Mr. Kratovil reveals that he actually reads the bills put before him for a vote. Congressman, it should come as no surprise that the good people of Maryland who sent you to Washington expected you to read them. In his commercial, Mr. Kratovil takes his eyes off the road to tell viewers that once he read the bills, he voted against the budget, against health care reform, against the bank bailout. So basically what he's saying is that he carefully considered some of the most difficult, vexing problems of our times — and chose to do nothing. He didn't say he introduced better legislation, he just voted no. And this seems to be his entire platform when asking us to return him to his post.

Mr. Kratovil's argument for re-election, we can then conclude, seems to stem from the fact that he can drive a car and that he's amassed a fourth grade ability to read and comprehend complex written material.

Let's look at his opponent then. Surely state Sen. Andy Harris can drive and read, too — although I wouldn't recommend he do them both at the same time. But I can't vouch for Mr. Harris' abilities with any certainty, since he didn't say anything in the TV commercial he ran two years ago, the first time he faced Mr. Kratovil — even though the ad was called "Andy Harris on Frank Kratovil." The only thing he said the entire time was that he approved the message. (This can also be found on YouTube.)

But I'm sure he's at least as competent as my post-college roommates at our group house on Maryland Avenue in his ability to do nothing about important stuff, just like Frank Kratovil.

Ahh, but in Mr. Harris' new 2010 ad (called "American Dream," also on YouTube), he can be seen walking and talking (although not at the same time). Still, the big question remains: Can Andy drive?

If reading and driving and doing nothing are the only prerequisites for a term in Congress, why not shoot for the Senate, boys?

In the Senate race, the affable incumbent Barbara Mikulski certainly has the ability to read and find transportation, as for decades she's recognized her name as the winner in the newspaper the morning after elections and subsequently returned to Washington.

In fact, I can personally attest to her abilities in these areas as I once ran into her at the outlet mall in Queenstown during a pause from a return trip from Ocean City. I observed that she seemed quite adept at reading the ingredients on a bar of boutique soap. I think she's even done some stuff in D.C.

But her opponent, Eric Wargotz, portrays her in his TV campaign ads as a dinosaur (this ad, called "Political Insidersaurus" can also be found on YouTube), yet further on in the same ad Mr. Wargotz reveals his own apparent inability to read as he's seen looking at a sign three feet away with binoculars.

Even if he equals Mr. Kratovil's ability to drive, he'll be unlikely to contribute much if we send him to the Senate; he will likely spend his entire day cruising the area looking for his parking space since he can't read the signs or drive with binoculars on. Advantage Mikulski.

The sad truth remains that these candidates seem to think the intelligent, resourceful and complex citizens of Maryland are not very bright. This notion is nothing new in TV political campaigns. Three decades ago I was a teenager with the chance to sit in on an editing session for a political TV commercial. At one point the director noticed me and shared his perspective: "Kid, there's an old saying in this business. You can fool some of the people all of the time — and that's our target audience!" I guess things haven't changed much in 30 years.

We like the fact that those who represent us in Washington can both read and physically get to our nation's capital — but we really need politicians who can do something. C'mon Maryland, can't we demand our candidates communicate with us about important issues in a slightly more intelligent way?

Jeff Dugan is a television producer. He lives in Glyndon. His e-mail address is jeffdugan@jeffdugan.com.

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