Now that “Silly Season” is over, can our governments get back to governing?
Between the Lines
That “silly season” called the mid-term elections is over. Thank God this campaign season is over.
And guess what? It’s not the end of the world (although political parties would make you think that Armageddon would come, if you didn’t vote them or their party).
This was the most negative campaign season ever. Nationwide, billions of dollars were spent on negative campaigns. One gubernatorial candidate in California spent more than $165 million dollars of her own money to get her message out, and it was almost all spent on a negative message bashing her opponent. I couldn’t tell you one positive thing about her that should have come out of such an ambitious expenditure. Fortunately, there was no incumbent in this race.
But there were plenty of national races where there were incumbents, and the tone just got silly.
True, but silly. Negative, but silly. Every candidate in nearly every race (of consequence) went negative. The president of the United States had to get in the mix, out of necessity, to slow the negative tone and perpetually negative campaigning. And our federal government came to a stand still. Why?
Because, people, we are listening to it. Negative news travels five times faster than positive news. Put another way, people enjoy gossip, and people enjoy “hearin’ stuff.”
Elections are necessary to keep our democracy in the people’s hands. Campaigning is the public education process to inform the public about their choices for office or their choices for positions on initiatives. The negative campaigning is usually a minor but necessary evil to call out untruths, a position difference or character flaw of a candidate the public should know about.
The problem is that it is a self-interested party—either an opposing candidate, or entity tied to the opposing candidate—that determines what the public needs to know.
Most of the time, it isn’t really something that the public needs to know, but something that the opposition wants you to know, because it’s something they can twist and spin out of proportion.
We find ourselves trying to discern the truth of what’s been put out there, and trying to hear what are really the positive attributes of the candidates that have become muddled in the negative campaigning. Now negative campaigning has become a dominant theme in many candidate’s winning strategy. The public seems almost conditioned to negative campaigning, even though most voters do not like it.
But they tolerate it, to see if their perceptions of a candidate are accurate, or if it is just a mud-slinging campaign between two mediocre candidates. This year, it was mostly mudslinging at a time, when the people needed really to hear solutions about how their government can help resolve their problems.
But we heard rhetoric about people “wanting their country back (where did it go?)” and making government responsible because the other guy (woman) is a butthead who did something dumb in the past. How does that make you better? Few candidates who threw mud answered that question.
That’s how silly season gets out of control, and it makes a mockery of the political process and it confuses the public … intentionally.
But there’s a reason negative campaigning works. It does three things; 1) it gets our attention more than a positive … similar to print media mentality (if it bleeds, it leads), and 2) it changes our perceptions and opinions faster. People are more likely to change their opinion between a positive followed by a negative, than a positive followed by a positive. Finally, it causes people to react, mostly negatively, meaning staying home, because they want “none of the above” (which helps the status quo), or react to the negative act by voting the way the advertising suggested.
The voting public rarely punishes the candidate who goes negative. They punish the candidate who was negatively targeted. There are exceptions, of course, when the public wants no part of it.
Going negative is risky then, but more often than not, a leading candidate loses points on their lead each time a negative hit takes flight.
A fundamental law of politics is now, “When losing, go negative,” and there’s always somebody losing. Candidates now hire “hit persons” who do “opposition research” before they hire their fundraiser. It’s a mindset that they will, at some time in the campaign, have to “go negative.” The silliness is that most of it (negativity) is always “in response” to something, when all candidates knew they have every intention of doing so in the first place. Nobody wants to go first, but has no problem finishing it up.
The 2008 presidential election season was refreshing because people wanted something different and even when they did go negative, Obama didn’t respond, and it seemed that the congressional races took that lead. Not this season …
It went way overboard this silly season. It was sillier than in past years. That’s why I’m glad it’s over. Can we get back to solving the nation’s (and the state’s) problems now? Please?
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eeyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.
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