Multimedia smear campaigns are encapsulating Oregon politics as of late. Candidates’ characters are slandered, motives are questioned, and nobody goes home happy at the end of the day. This warfare is fought nowhere more destructively than on television. It is hard to sit through your favorite reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond these days without being exposed to the petulant voices of coercion, infringing upon your right to vote free from the biased whining of the political machine. The swing vote is won or lost based on the length of airplay and level of insults flung about in these messages. These ads are destructive not only to the political process, but to the voter psyche as well.
The attack ad formula is quite simple, with little variation across the board. The opening images are often black and white, showing the offending candidate’s face contorted in some kind of threatening manner, with rolling text citing statistics and an ominous voice making poorly researched accusations. After a sufficiently offensive 7.5 seconds of malefic charges, the mood suddenly changes. Color floods onto the screen, a cheerful melody croons and the alternative candidate of light and goodness is praised by the aforementioned voice. The ad ends with the ever popular, and required, statement, “My name is [insert name here] and I approve this message.” Give me a break. As if we expected that the last few seconds of unadulterated ego boosting would be disapproved by the source of its commission. The 2006 midterm elections are brimming with advertisements of politicians for sale and they are quite pathetic.
The governor’s race is as close as they come, apparently. Between Ron Saxton’s flannel shirts and Gov. Kulongoski’s unabashed photo-ops, there is no lack of vilifying fodder for the debate gristmill. Saxton’s education policy advertisement is particularly distressing for it’s blatant disregard of common sense. Gov. Kulongoski is accused of spending millions of dollars on education, yet Oregon is still in a budget crisis. Can we consider this for a moment please? Millions of dollars on education? We must alert the proper authorities, lest education receive some kind of funding or validation in Oregon. I will admit that Saxton does provide some kind of service to students by advertising the fact that we are being disenfranchised, and by creating some level of awareness for the lack of major result for all the governor’s previous efforts. I am not happy about his politicizing the fact that my school peers and I are disenfranchised by lack of sufficient public spending, and then insinuating that his conservative fiscal plan for Oregon is the solution.
As an equal opportunity critic, I will not leave the stones of our present governor’s sinful advertising unturned. Gov. Kulongoski’s use of the political commercial to influence the group of citizenry he failed to enthrall while in office is a little bit sad, as the machinations of challenged and struggling incumbents often are. By trying to appeal to those living the Northwest lifestyle, Gov. Kulongoski ends up on a canoe in recently published images and video. Can you picture the production of that affair? Men in suits, and pointy, polished shoes standing on the bank of the river, awkwardly flailing their arms in hopes of one bar of cell phone reception. “Can you hear me now? Yes, the governor would like his tailor to meet him at the office this afternoon, we’ve got a situation with river muck.”
As amusing, perhaps, and made-up as this scenario is, it speaks to the larger problem with campaigning. We no longer allow our politicians to simply do our (their) politics. We want them in our living rooms and at our dining tables, so as to make us feel that we are on common ground. Oregonians and the public in general hold the lion’s share of responsibility for the irresponsible use of media so callously stroking our brain processes. The reason candidates and special interest groups continue to use these methods is that studies have shown that they actually work. Campaigns are now about candidates outspending one another, and we usually reward the biggest spenders by giving them our vote. Limits on campaign expenditures is a bigger discussion and debate I won’t presume to know enough about to begin here, but is it not obvious that something is broken when billionaires will always trump millionaires?
Oregonians should demand substance for their vote. We are not party to the petty promotions of partisan politics in the months and years outside of election season. That candidates and special interests have now chosen to notice us is not reason enough to vote favorably for their cause. There is no value in anything we are served on silver screen platters while perusing “Must See TV Thursdays.” Students must be especially diligent when sorting through their opinions and deciding how to vote. This is not hard, as we are largely ignored by the campaign media captains. Media tactics around education are designed for the parents, not the actual attendees of Oregon’s failing school systems. You don’t see platforms based on student loan reform or prescription drug plans for constituents of higher education. Students have been attached a stigma more dangerous than all of our other vices. We are the non-voting population of the state and politics have always been played accordingly.
And so, I beseech you, fellow dwellers of the Portland State campus. Study your voter guides as sedulously as your textbooks. Do not be moved by the cheaply made commercials stealing the public airwaves. Squelch the desire to vote based on cheap gimmicks and vote with zeal on issues and candidates of which you have true knowledge. But above all, please, for the statistics that will surely follow, just vote!
My name is Monique Petersen and I approve this message. (Not paid for by Friends of Petersen for Higher Education.)