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Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Fix Campaign Ads

The major party presidential candidates, with assists from their running mates, spokespeople, advisors, and friends, have succeeded in uniting the country. We are all of us, right and left, sick and tired of this campaign. Anyone who is even half-way informed about the issues and the problems facing our nation knows that the Republicans and Democrats are forsaking honest debate for just about the lowest, most mean-spirited and intellectually vacant campaign in memory. (Yes, I know things got heated in Cleveland v. Blaine, but really.)

This year the campaign ads in particular have been a low-point for both Governor Romney and President Obama. How much control or input each man has over the Super PACs running ads on his behalf is a matter of some debate, but with the revelations that most are run by people with close ties to the candidates their content is fair game for criticism of the candidates themselves. Which of course the candidates are already doing, since at this stage of the game anything is more appealing to them than stating their own ideas or positions for the record.

If campaign ads were your sole source of information, you might not even be aware that there is a war on, for all the candidates are willing to talk about it. You probably know that Mitt Romney doesn’t like the President’s spending, but you’d probably be hard pressed to figure out how he plans to cut it. You might know that President Obama claims Mitt Romney will raise taxes on the middle class, but you probably don’t know how or even if he plans to address the deficit.

How can we fix the commercials? Well, Super PAC ads are going to be impossible to fix, since the rules governing them are practically non-existent and the deniability they lend to campaigns has proven extremely enticing. Short of an outright ban, they’re likely here to sully our airwaves for the foreseeable future.

As for the ads actually put out by the campaigns, there seems to me to be a simple fix. A step in this direction was taken a decade ago through the Stand By Your Ad provision, the source of the now-famous “I’m [Candidate X] and I support this message.” My plan would go a few steps farther. If I had my way, every campaign ad would have to read entirely by the candidate, and he would have to appear full-screen for at least part of the ad.

I think a lot of the more outrageous elements of the campaign ads would be ameliorated by candidates not wanting to actually have to say them aloud. It would also cut down on scary animation, quotes pulled out of context, and those expertly crafted low-tones of voice, you know the ones I’m talking about, the ones where the narrator manages to make even the opponent’s name sound frightening.

This solution would probably lead to the ads featuring more content about the candidate’s own plans, which would be a plus for everybody. Finally, something good can come from politicians talking about themselves.

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