[Originally ran in the November 2014 issue of The Village.]
Ahh, November. The month that brings us the conviviality of Thanksgiving, the reflective sobriety of Veterans Day, the inexorable decline toward winter, and the mind-numbing onslaught of political ads and their accompanying campaigns that never fail to excite my inner cynic and make me wistful for the days of car and Cialis commercials.
I used to pay attention to political ads. I used to think they mattered. I used to listen. I used to believe that candidates had something new to say, had something bold and different to offer. Come to find, they don’t.
Let me amend that last statement: For the past ten years or so, candidates have indeed offered something new and different to the voters, in that they – for the most part – steadfastly refuse to identify their political party. The climate has become so toxic that publicly claiming you’re a Democrat or Republican will immediately have 40% of the electorate labeling you a good-for-nothing scumbag. Or worse.
But besides that development, political campaigns are the same as they’ve been for decades. Possibly centuries. What do you need to know about a typical advertising campaign in case you plan to run for office? I’m here to help.
First, Photoshop the warts, whiteheads, and shiny foreheads off the best pics you can find of yourself, or, better yet, take new ones in a flattering light, preferably with children, the elderly, veterans, and factory workers. Meanwhile, Photoshop warts, whiteheads, and shiny foreheads onto pics of your opponent. Don’t be shy about digitally altering your opponent beyond mere facial blemishes; a finger lodged firmly into a nostril can mean the difference between a dead heat and a two-point lead, while having him/her appearing to shake hands with either an al-Qaeda operative or a Kardashian may translate into a landslide. And don’t worry about a lawsuit for libel: by the time it’s filed, you’ll be in office, where you’ll be able to influence its outcome. Win-win!
As an addendum to the previous bit of advice: When it comes to video footage, show yourself smiling in color and your opponent grimacing in black and white. And have fun with this – with a couple of clicks you can make your opponent’s footage look muddy, grainy, and scratched, like it was unearthed from the archives of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
If running for national office, be sure to paint any incumbents as Washington insiders who are out of touch with the common working man. At the same time, sidestep any questions from the press about your becoming a Washington insider who is out of touch with the common working man once you’re elected.
Kissing babies is passé. What you want to do is cozy up with veterans. Even though saying you “support our troops” is like saying you “support not killing puppies by smacking them with sledgehammers,” the obvious sentiment goes a long way with voters. Be seen alternately smiling and looking gravely concerned while talking (or skydiving) with veterans, who would do well to be wearing their uniforms.
By all means, mention that your opponent voted against a bill that outwardly sounds like a no-brainer (e.g. A Law to Prevent the Killing of Puppies by Smacking Them with Sledgehammers), without mentioning that the same bill had a rider on it that was also a no-brainer (e.g. A Law to Encourage the Killing of Kittens by Smacking Them with Sledgehammers). In your defense, there’s just so much material you can present to the public without subjecting them to information overload.
If you’re going to stage a scene for a TV commercial with a group of people sitting around a kitchen table extolling your virtues, go the extra mile and hire professional actors, rather than those who didn’t make the cut for the Fort Kent Community Players. People just might equate bad acting with bad politics.
Start with one or two positive ads that simply put your record and qualifications in the right light, but have a truckload of attack ads ready to go the minute your opponent says something you don’t like (“I’m the right man for the job”) that you can repackage to the public as a negative ad (“He says I’m Satan”), thereby justifying your use of the damning material you’ve been saving for this special day (“No one has said my opponent favors killing puppies by smacking them with sledgehammers, and I’m certainly not saying he favors killing puppies by smacking them with sledgehammers, but would anyone really be surprised?”).