Reg Henry: It's time to campaign against political ads
by Reg Henry
Columnist
October 22, 2010 12:00 AM | 877 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Reg Henry
Reg Henry
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Since the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous Citizens United case changed the campaign finance rules to treat corporations more like people - and how considerate of the justices! - money has rained down upon our democracy in great and unrelenting torrents.

There's an old saying that the rain falls on the rich and poor alike - but, of course, it's always the poor who end up being soaked because the rich have better umbrellas.

Now the rich control the political weather itself. Things have reached such a sorry state that the weather forecasters will soon say: "It will be clear this morning with clouds of corporate funding moving in later to rain down deceptive ads during prime time."

In theory, unions as well as corporations benefit from the Citizens United decision, but union strength has faded, so the targets of the current crop of ads are disproportionately Democrats. This is fine if you don't like Democrats - and there's a lot of that going around.

But because some of these nimbus clouds of funding are of uncertain origin, it isn't fine for the future of the republic. After Citizens United, these funding clouds with their political thunderbolts are clouds of secrecy.

The White House recently got into an unseemly argument with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a prominent rainmaker - indeed, a veritable monsoon machine in the midterm elections. In a weekly radio address last month, President Barack Obama raised the specter of possible illegal foreign influence on our elections because, "We don't know who's behind these ads or who's paying for them."

Defenders of the ads were quick to point out that no proof existed for such a charge. Right you are. Indeed, we have to believe the Chamber of Commerce in this instance, because if you can't trust a Chamber of Commerce, who can you trust these days? Besides, we all know that nothing nefarious ever goes on in the world of politics, especially when money is involved.

Still, I have to think that this shyness among those who secretly fund ads will inevitably lead to abuse of the privilege handed down on a silver platter by the Supreme Court. Unless bears promise not to seek honey, and raccoons swear off garbage, and indeed all the laws of nature are repealed, some political operative is bound to smell the money and not care that the scent is wafting on trade winds from overseas.

Perhaps Osama bin Laden and the boys are even now forming a nonprofit political advertising outfit called Jihadists United to exercise the loophole so recklessly provided by the American infidels.

They would need a respectable front, of course; otherwise the first line of defense in America's democracy (bloggers in pajamas) would leap into action, either defending or attacking this development, depending on their level of craziness. But if the jihadists have good cover - and why not, when they won't have to disclose their identity? - most of us won't know what's going on until a camel is shown on TV nuzzling a favored candidate.

Of course, I exaggerate - I was just trying to get your attention, which you have to agree worked out well. It probably won't come to mad Muslims trying to influence our elections. It will be insufferable French people supporting the most ridiculous candidate - and this year there's no shortage - so that they can laugh at us and make gesticulations and nasal snorting noises when they are elected.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if any of the flood of ads currently on TV could drop one sparkling hailstone of reason or wit or even a fairly rendered fact. But every ad, no matter what party is the beneficiary, appears intended for the consumption and confusion of morons. The political wizards obviously believe that insulting our intelligence with lies, lies and innuendo is the best way to elect candidates.

Why are political ads so dopey? Apparently the best brains in this country are making beer ads, with cute flatulent animals, or car insurance ads, with little green lizards, and nobody is left with a sense of humor to make a decent, creative political ad. This is another reason to support remedying the Citizens United case - all the money that secrecy can buy, and nobody can produce an honest political ad to make us think or laugh.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have blocked legislation to undo the Supreme Court's handiwork. Sadly, it appears that the party of Lincoln is now the party of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

And where are those roused populists, the tea partiers, who are pledged to remake the conservative party? Like taxi cabs, they are never around when it's raining.

Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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