For months, radio and television ads and billboards have assaulted us about various candidates and political issues for the upcoming mid-term election. It's not just the volume of campaign ads that gets on my nerves. It's the negativity, and sometimes just their stupidity. Are you just as tired of this campaign as I am? Aren't you sick of ads like this one:
"Vote for me, and you vote for the security of this nation. I stand for moral values. Vote for my opponent, and you vote for someone who loves illegal immigrants and murderers more than he loves good, honest Americans."
But it's getting harder and harder to avoid campaign ads. If I'm watching a ball game or a movie on TV, they go to a commercial and say something like, "A vote for the other guy is a vote to end America as we know it." When I'm driving in my car, the commercials are on the radio. Even if I turn off the radio, I see the ads on billboards.
And if I'm at home with the television and radio off, the political mudslinging still manages to make its way into my house through an insidious technique called "the prerecorded telephone call."
Here's how they work in my house. The phone rings, I answer it, and then I hear something like this:
Voice: "Hello, I'm Jane Smith, a candidate for Congress in your district."
Lloyd: "Jane Smith! Great! I have a lot of questions for you."
You see, I don't realize it's a recorded voice for a second or two. But of course, by the time I say a couple of words, she is already on to why I should vote for her instead of the evil person who is running against her. I hate that it's a recording. It even turns me off to the candidate. I didn't feel this way before the call, but once I've answered the phone, I feel that if she really wants my vote, let her call me for real.
As Election Day gets closer and the contests become tighter, I think we can assume that campaigns will intrude upon our lives even more. Look up at the beautiful sky in the next couple of weeks, and you may see skywriting that urges you to "vote against the flag burner." Check your e-mail, and you're bound to see messages asking you to "vote for a real American." Try to play an innocent game of Scrabble, and somehow those campaign managers will make the letters spell out something like, "The other guy once had a mistress."
We also can expect the campaigns to get even dirtier. They're already well below sleazy. In New Jersey, two state legislature candidates have accused each other of helping criminals. In Wisconsin, one Congressional candidate has said voters shouldn't support the incumbent because, among other things, "he voted to finance federal research of trans-gender Eskimos." One worthy of nobody's respect is going on in New York, where Hillary Clinton's opponent, John Spencer, denies that he told a reporter for the New York Daily News that Hillary used to be "ugly," before she had "millions of dollars of plastic surgery." And a California Congressional candidate sent out mailers telling immigrants that if they voted in a federal election, they'd be committing a crime. In actuality, of course, immigrants who have become naturalized citizens may vote. (His party, the GOP, has asked him to drop out of the race.)
Negative attack ads are nothing new. They're part of the American tradition. Maybe we shouldn't complain about them, because I'm not even so sure that they've been getting meaner and dirtier lately. LBJ's "Daisy Girl" commercial that showed an innocent girl one moment and a nuclear holocaust the next might be the most famous in this genre. Going back even farther, Thomas Jefferson's opponents called him every name imaginable. And in 1884, both major candidates got into it. Since Grover Cleveland was accused of fathering an illegitimate child, his opponent, James Blaine, had the classy campaign slogan of, "Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha." And the best Cleveland could come up with in response was, "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine."
But at least Blaine and Cleveland didn't interrupt your evening by reciting their stupid poems on your phone at home.
Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.