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Campaign Ads Should be More Boring

October 10th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

When you get a day of perfect weather in early Fall, you feel even more obligated to go out and enjoy it because there won’t be many left. I feel it would be morally wrong of me to sit in here and write a lengthy blog post instead of riding my bike around in the crisp Oktober air, so it’ll be just another quick comment today.

Ron Howard wrote a brief piece for the Huffington Post in which he made what I believe to be a fantastic suggestion:

Instead of candidates hiring people like yours truly, to create campaign media that works on both conscious and subconscious levels to sway the voting public, what if all TV ads were, by law, only allowed to feature the candidate, with, say, the American flag as the backdrop, alone, speaking directly to the camera? Perhaps the words also subtitled on the bottom of the frame. No music, no graphs, no cut-away shots of disturbing or sentimental images. Only the candidate, talking to us, the voters.

For such a simple idea, I think this would go a really long way towards improving the way America elects its leaders. If candidates have to be out in front of the camera themselves, they’ll have to be much more careful about slinging the kind of mud that you see in most contemporary campaign ads. And if they can’t rely on music or imagery to drive their message home, they’ll just have to rely on good old fashioned rhetoric. They’ll just have to present their ideas and explain why they think those ideas are good.

That means that the pundits, too, would have to talk about the substance of the ideas the candidates are presenting. Instead of talking about what kind of psychological impact they believe the campaign ads have on viewers, they’d have little choice but to talk about the actual issues and weigh the candidates’ claims against researched facts.

Finally, because these kinds of ads would be much cheaper to produce, they wouldn’t need to raise quite as much money. This would offset the damage done by the recent Citizens United decision. If a giant oil corporation wanted to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to take down an anti-oil candidate, that money wouldn’t be quite as much of a problem for the candidate. His opponent would be able to buy more slots to present the ads, but the ads could be nothing other than the opponent looking at the camera and explaining why the voters shouldn’t want an anti-oil guy as their representative. The voters will hear the argument and decide for themselves.

But even this little change will never happen as long as those at the top are benefiting so much from the way we do it now.

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