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Daniel Ruth

Torrents of twaddle, with a side of steamy hooey

Relying on a political advertisement to help you decide which candidate to vote for is a bit like looking to Michael Vick for guidance on how to housebreak a puppy.

You are more likely to find a kernel of truth in a Saddam Hussein memoir touting his commitment to Jeffersonian democratic principles than in most of what passes for election season bloviating on the airwaves and in our mailboxes.

During last week's gubernatorial debate between Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and Naples health care executive Rick Scott, which was like watching Howdy Doody going mano-a-mano with The Addams Family's Lurch, Fox 13 moderator John Wilson succinctly noted that while everyone decries the flood of negative advertising during a political campaign, all the nay-saying, all the character assassination, all the reckless disregard for the truth persists because — it works.

The doom-is-lurking-around-the-corner commercials work for some fairly simple reasons, not the least of which is that people generally will remember a truly vicious, nasty, blood-splatter-filled spot more than one attempting to portray a candidate as a competent, decent, caring person.

The dirty little secret no politician will admit to is the notion these ads work because of the 800-pound gorilla in the room, most notably the candidate's predicate that many voters are … well they are … well they are dumber than a sack of Glenn Becks, okay? There, it had to be said.

It has always been an interestingly perverse quirk in our political culture that campaign advertisements are not held to the same standard of truth and accuracy we impose on a commercial for corn flakes, or laxatives, or automobiles.

Perhaps this is so because of a sort of unstated assumption that the public ought to know political advertising is mostly lies, all lies that no one in their right mind would take any of them seriously. But people do — see paragraph five, re: Beck, Glenn.

So if we are going to be inundated with all this twaddle, we might well need a bit of a primer to recognize when an aspiring pol is trying to sell you a pile of steaming hooey.

For example, take the claims by Scott's campaign and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman's state Senate campaign supporters that their respective Republican opponents, McCollum and state Rep. Kevin Ambler, are little more than tax-and-spend dreaded liberals, which is akin to accusing NASCAR's Jeff Gordon of driving too slowly.

Both McCollum and Ambler have been charged with voting on increasing taxes and fees, which is the tea party kiss of death. But voters should always be wary of these sorts of indictments. To begin with, the legislative process can be uglier than a mob hit. Without any context, the voter has no idea exactly what taxes and fees the accused voted on. Were these procedural committee votes, while the candidate may have ultimately voted against the bill on a final vote?

In Ambler's case, it was a Republican-dominated Legislature, which voted to increase fees for driver licenses, vehicle registration, fishing licenses, etc., to help make up for budget shortfalls in part created by tax cuts pushed in previous years by Gov. Jeb Bush — the Darth Vader of the Heritage Foundation.

Many of these ads —- both Democratic and Republican — are often sponsored by shadowy folks known as 527 groups, a reference to the federal tax code. Run away, hide the women and children, lock the doors and turn the lights off any time you see an ad sponsored by organizations calling themselves stuff like the Committee for Florida's Future, or the American Democracy Project, or the Florida First Fund, or Let's Get To Work, or Americans Dedicated to Stealing This Election, or Truth? We Don't Need No Stinking Truth — For America.

Any ad attacking any candidate sponsored by any organization with any combination of words such as Freedom, America, Democracy, Eagle, Future, Vision, Liberty, Prosperity, Patriot, 1776, Constitution, Life, Courage and, of course, tea, can reasonably be assumed to be full of lies, prevarications, innuendo, mendaciousness, falsehoods, rumors, canards and flat-out whoppers.

These 527 groups have all the transparency and accountability of a Skull & Bones initiation rite. The viewer of a 527-sponsored commercial has no idea who paid for it or who belongs to the phony political action committee except that they have wrapped themselves in the flag, America the Beautiful and a faceless announcer who sounds like God.

And on the basis of a commercial less grounded in any semblance of reality than the birther movement, many voters decide how to cast a ballot.

Democracy can be a cumbersome obligation to lug around, especially when so many in the electorate are so blithely happy to allow their opinions to be made up for them by the voting booth equivalent of the America's Got Talent judges brought to you by the Committee of God-Fearing Patriotic Liberty Loving Americans For a More Courageous Florida Visionary Future.

Torrents of twaddle, with a side of steamy hooey 08/09/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 9, 2010 6:30pm]
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