Jane Ahlin column: Take time to think, then go vote
The Sunday before election is a good time to turn off the TV and take a deep breath. Allow the last volley of harping, hysterical campaign ads and the puffery of hacks and pundits to disappear -- mere electronic waves broadcast into the void of s...
The Sunday before election is a good time to turn off the TV and take a deep breath. Allow the last volley of harping, hysterical campaign ads and the puffery of hacks and pundits to disappear -- mere electronic waves broadcast into the void of space -- perhaps to annoy creatures on another planet. Take a walk, bake some bread, caulk a few windows, rake leaves, or even use this newspaper to start a fire in the fireplace. In other words, relax; allow time for thinking before voting.
Of course, if I had my way, all campaigning would cease the Sunday before the election, and the only political ads on TV and radio would be ads which encourage voting. Let patriotic music swell and drumbeats roll to underscore the privilege of suffrage. But banish the berate-n-fate, fuss-n-cuss, gloom-n-doom election eve attacks by candidates for all levels of political office.
Nothing turns people off more than the nastiness of the media blitz in the last few days before an election. In fact, the overwhelming use of attack advertising is cited as a key reason people do not bother to vote. (Why vote? One is as bad as another). Were there a day between the end of campaigning and the day of voting that reasoning would not resonate as strongly as it does now? More importantly, the millions of Americans who do vote would have time to put their thoughts in order and feel good about the choices they were making.
OK, so my idea is unlikely to catch on.
Still, in the mix of issues related to campaign finance reform, the continual debasement of public discourse cries out for attention. It isn't enough to say that the public gets what it asks for, or that it's our gullibility in falling for negative advertising which is the real culprit. The public's right to know ought to trump the candidate's right to distort and mislead. Candidates have to be aware that by playing to society's lowest, common denominator, they scorn the very same public trust they seek. The problem is that the low road often leads to election.
Political advertising on television has grown so odious that, perhaps, like cigarette advertising, it should be banned from TV. (Rather than citing the medical risks to people, the risks to the body politic could be invoked). As it is now, some discussion goes on in the first days following each election about changing the way campaigns are conducted, but it fades quickly. Frankly, much of what we decry as "partisanship" really is a hangover from vitriolic television advertising -- millions upon millions of dollars worth of meaningless, vicious stuff that is hard for both losers and winners to put aside in the name of good government. The only real value in such ads is as fodder for late night comedians.
For perspective, we can look back to the Greek philosopher Aristophanes, who in the year 450 BC wrote, "Under every stone lurks a politician." (A play on the popular proverb of the time, "Under every stone lurks a scorpion.") The truth is, there's nothing new about associating politics with the unsavory. But it's also true that between America's new appreciation for patriotism since 9/11 and the tragic death days ago of Paul Wellstone, this election seems weightier than most. We should be thoughtful.
And then we should vote.
Ahlin teaches English as an adjunct faculty member at Minnesota State University Moorhead and is a regular contributor to The Forum's commentary pages.