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October 04, 2006

No Wonder People Fail to Vote

Oh, the inanity: dirty tricks, braggadocio, empty promises

No wonder people fail miserably at showing up to vote. All of the big-ticket 2006 campaigns (and some of the smaller ones) have missed the mark yet again. Instead of giving us solid reasons to get out and vote for their candidate, these mass marketers invariably choose one of three exhaustingly predictable paths: they go on the attack, exaggerate their candidate’s accomplishments, or produce nonsensical patter (or some combination thereof). Contrary to all the effort, the outcome simply gives us reasons to consider sitting at home with a cold one instead of voting.

Our first example is the Jim Bryson for Governor campaign. Who’s Jim Bryson? Good question. Until he was tapped on the shoulder about five minutes before the deadline and told to run against incumbent Governor Phil Bredesen, he was, as far as the public eye was concerned, just one of 33 state senators. He happens to be from affluent Williamson County, whence hail party powerhouses (think Marsha Blackburn in a few years); but other than that, he was a little-known name. His campaign consultants decided to introduce Bryson to Tennesseans by depicting a looming, gangly populist holding a Bredesen — or, some say, Bob Corker, inexplicably — look-alike in the palm of his hand, while he accuses the tiny governor of making Tennessee a “Mecca for illegal aliens” and other wrongs. The ad was purportedly supposed to be humorous; and it was, we all agreed — just not in the way intended.

Then there’s the gubernatorial race to our south, where Governor “Sonny Did” Perdue faces a true giant in Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor. Perdue hopes that his base turns out yet again for a redneck cattle call (hey, I have friends in Georgia who proudly self-identify as rednecks, and I applaud them), only this time it’s not for the Stars and Bars, it’s for putting undocumented workers behind bars (as opposed to, say, placing their siren-song employers under penalty). His series of ads is so corny that someone mocked one up into a Levitra commercial. The result is really not that unbelievable. The challenger’s television fare offers a mixed approach of attacks and promises. Boo. There’s not as much to pick on there; too much actual policy talk. Still, exaggeration abounds.

Over in Virginia, one U.S. Senate candidate doesn’t need an opponent’s dirty ads to make him look bad. Senator George Allen has so poorly mishandled racially insensitive moments from several points in his past that not only is his 2008 presidential dream only a puff of tobacco smoke, his typically safe (as an incumbent) re-election status is quickly heading toward danger. In case you care but don’t know, Jim Webb is the other Republican in the race. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. He’s running as a Democrat. (The Democrats are finally listening to what smart people have been telling them since the runup to the 2002 elections: run centrists — Bayh-partisans, if you will.)

Finally, we turn to the U.S. Senate race here in Tennessee, which deservedly claims top billing (along with just a few others) on the national stage. Its dramatic potential is muted, however, by the fact that there are, whether or not you like this, two rather centrist candidates each trying to make an end run around the other to pick up the swing vote. Yes, it’s a dizzying image. So how did these respective campaigns choose to illustrate the virtues of their candidates to the undecided voter? Ford’s people have depicted Corker as fiddling with real estate deals while the 911 system burned; and Corker’s crowd responded to Ford’s definitely right-of-center immigration stance by painting Ford as Tennessee’s most liberal member of Congress.

One blogger, Sean Braisted of Nashville for the 21st Century, had had enough of the “most liberal” theme, and pronounced flatly that determining the most liberal member of Tennessee’s delegation “is like trying to figure out who the blackest member of the Beatles is.” When you consider that Jim Cooper, D-5th, is a member of The Heritage Society Foundation [thanks Ned], and that John Tanner, D-8th, started the Blue Dog Coalition — to which, dear reader, Ford also belongs — you might see Braisted’s point. (Congressmen Davis and Gordon are not exactly San Francisco hippies, either.) And what of the 911 system failures? It’s somewhat interesting that the quotes regarding Corker’s indifference seem to come from one, er, “ex-chief source.”

For Corker’s part, his recent claim to have cut Chattanooga’s crime by half (instead of a respectable 30 percent) had many rolling their eyes. While it’s important to remember that crime did decrease during Corker’s administration, it’s nothing but sad that campaign commercials can’t simply let facts stand on their own. We should acknowledge leadership that resulted in lower crime rates; but blowing it up like that kind of bursts our bubble.

The glaring lesson from all of this is to never, ever let a candidate’s advertisement determine one’s decision in an election. You needn’t pore over the various offerings the way some of us can’t help doing in order to be aware that the ads do a rational person no good. Vote with the facts on your side. It is too bad that those facts are made more difficult to ascertain by all the murky media paid for by all the PACs.

[This column appears in the October 4, 2006 Pulse.]

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Pulsations | By joe lance | 09:49 AM