Regardless of the outcome, we can count on at least one good thing coming out of this election: Negative television commercials will come to a blessed end. That candidates for office and those who labor in their behalf are willing to insult us with such disgraceful lies, exaggeration and innuendo should offend us all. We can begin to breathe again after Election Day, one hopes.
Who started this? It’s tempting to blame the practice on one political party, but history tells us that both sides have indulged in mud-slinging, although the Republican Party did initiate negative campaigning on the radio in 1936. Historians believe that negative campaigning in the United States probably began about 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, formerly close friends, turned on each other. Jefferson’s team blasted Adams for having a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” neither forceful and firm as a man nor gentle and sensitive as a woman. Adams retaliated by playing the race card, calling Jefferson a low-life, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father. The attacks and personal slurs worsened as the election approached.
Since the 1960s, television has prospered by enabling vicious attacks that ignore boundaries of human decency. Newspaper editors and television producers have responded by creating special coverage that tests the assertions in negative commercials for their truth or falsity. A public service intended to help us know what to believe and what to ignore as false.
We have come to this.
Witness with me the spectacle of many thousands of ordinary folks, people like you and me, who love their spouse and children, attend worship regularly, volunteer in helping roles in their communities, by outward appearance decent citizens, allow themselves to descend into hateful, red-faced, cruel attacks on someone whose political preferences differ from their own. Passionately caring is one thing. Being willing to let that caring descend into hate and cruelty is quite another.
Let us each look in a mirror and restore ourselves into the people we know we should be. I refuse to let television choose for me.
Today’s word: dilemma. Often incorrectly used as a synonym for any problem or challenge. Dilemma is a noun meaning a situation in which a difficult choice must be made between two or more alternatives.