Ad nauseam

Mike: Cynthia, the onslaught of television campaign ads has begun! Thankfully, at least some have been entertaining. Political columnist Don Roberts writes that Gov. Paul LePage won round 1, but I think Eliot Cutler’s debate spot is effective as well. What is your favorite thus far?

Cynthia: I don’t have a direct answer for you, Mike. The truth is I could care less about any of the ads. They all seem, well, like advertisments.

To me, worse than the onslaught of campaign ads is the onslaught of “news” and “analysis” about campaign ads. It’s ridiculous the media gets away with “reporting” how important it is for candidates to spend a bunch of money advertising with the media.

Mike: I suppose that’s fair. I would say that some of the ads are pretty brazenly shameless. For example, Howard Dean’s ad attacking Susan Collins for supporting the bank bailout. I agree with their policy position, but Dean’s organization endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama shortly after the vote occurred. It’s a bit disingenuous to attack someone only because she has an “R” after her name, but both sides do this.

However, you raise an interesting point: ads are merely ads. If not through ads, how should candidates and organizations get their messages out? In statewide races, it is hard to have a lot of direct voter contact.

Cynthia: You may have uncovered a fatal deficiency in my skill set as a political pundit. Not only do I not remember the Howard Dean ad attacking Susan Collins, I can’t recall any political ads whatsoever. Maybe because none have made me laugh or feel any emotion other than relief that what I’m seeing is not a commercial for erectile dysfunction medication.

If a candidate can’t make a memorable ad, it’s still easy to make a memorable impression directly on voters in Maine. All they need is a reliable car, free food and gumption. Campaigns could get their message out without droning on and on about what’s obvious. LePage is “unique,” all right. And Cutler is wicked smart. Mike Michaud, Salt of the Earth.Tell me something I don’t know.

What kind of dog do these guys have? Can they tell a joke? How do they look in a bathing suit?

Mike: Voters do not want to see any of them in a bathing suit. I’m quite certain of that.

Otherwise, yes, those questions would give insight on who the candidates are as individuals – I can confirm that Paul LePage can deliver a punchline. But with the breakneck pace of the next eight weeks, I wouldn’t expect to see much of that. Instead, we’re going to get a few more “background” ads, followed by slop and mudslinging, some “debates” with 30-second answers, and then election night. With that reality, what should voters do to inform themselves about the candidates behind the platitudes?

Cynthia: First, voters should question whether any candidate too fat to appear publicly in a bathing suit should be spouting off about big government or personal responsibility.

Second, you’re right. In the coming weeks we can expect lots of slop and muck on the air waves, and the dreaded “news” and “analysis” of the slop and muck. But we live in the information age and voters in the booth on election day are hiring someone for an important job. There’s plenty of good information to cull before making a decision. Are you worried Mike Michaud will give your tax dollars away to the five or six “illegal” children living in Maine if he’s elected? Ask him about it directly at a bean supper coming to a hall near you. Pick up the phone. Send him a Tweet.

It’s not hard to figure out what a candidate stands for — assuming he or she has a voting record and some political experience.

Mike: But, as we’ve already discussed, candidates often “evolve” or “flip-flop,” depending on your perspective. So, yes, you can find what they say they stand for, although it may not match up to their record.

But all of this assumes a level of engagement among the electorate that simply isn’t going to happen. Most people have lives where they need to take care of families, work at jobs or run small businesses, live within a budget, and try to save some money. When faced with limited time and the choice of doing a lot of research on one thing, they are going to figure out the best deal on a car rather than the best deal on a politician, who may or may not do what they promise. The car will have a much more direct impact on their life and it comes with a warranty, guaranteeing it will do what it promises to do.If only we had that in politics.

Whether you call them a low-information voter, rationally ignorant or inadvertently so, the fact is that ads are useful to distill things down into clear, concise points. Not unlike a court case, where two sides present their best arguments and let the judge and jury decide. The adversarial system may not be pretty, but it works.

Cynthia: Ads have nothing to do with the adversarial system, or truth or justice. They evidence nothing but the size of a campaign’s war chest and its judgment on how to spend it.

But you raise another very important question we need to explore before November.

What kind of car do these guys drive?