Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Political Ads: Can't We Just Grow Up?

Once upon a time, candidates used to appear in their own commercials. Now all the money goes to hired voices, attack ads and a mountain of sleaze. The messages are about as mature as kids razzing each other on the playground.


Do you remember when candidates used to appear on their own commercials? Many of them seemed a little stiff, wearing a sober suit and white shirt framed by an American flag, a bust of Lincoln and family pictures, as they made obvious irreconcilable and insupportable promises.

I'll improve schools, hire more police, teachers and trash workers, and lower taxes, creates jobs and get snow, guns and homeless off the street by being tough, fair, generous and stingy to all of our citizens, regardless of race, creed, hair color, the number of toes they have or whether they were ever stupid enough to vote for my opponent. I welcome your support.

I miss those ads. At least they gave you a glimpse of the candidate talking about issues, even if in hilarious non sequiturs. These days candidates hire consultants to make ads that publicize the names of their opponents so they can splash mud and slime on them. It's as if Coca Cola bought ads just to show people taking a swig of Pepsi and spitting it into a gutter.

The candidate used to ask least risk rejection by asking - sometimes pleading - vote for me, in his or her commercials. Now they hid behind hired voices who ask, you aren't really going to vote for that guy, are you, then have the candidate mutter at the end like so nine-year-old being forced to admit that he hit the baseball through the window. I approved this message.

Look, I'm from Chicago. I loved covering politics there, and still follow it like a contact sport. I know, as the old Chicago columnist Findley Peter Dunn wrote in 1898, politics ain't bean bag. It has always been rough because the stakes are high. I am not one of those people who says, I wish we had a high-minded political system like they do in Canada.

The sad fact is that candidates and soft money groups run vicious ads because the evidence is they work. We might be appalled, but we often follow through.

And when ads become so personal, intense and insulting, it's difficult for the candidate who survives - I won't even say win - to climb a top the ooze and act like a human being, much less a statesman, and difficult for votes to respect or trust people they've elected, in spite of what they've been told.

These ads may help candidates win the game, but they also risk tearing up the field and burning down the stadium. By the way, my name is Scott Simon and I approved this message.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small