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What Campaign Ads Say about Us

A few years ago, a friend who had previously worked in the print media made an observation I will never forget. He said that media corporations know they can get our attention by bombarding us with fear and loathing. This explains why almost every lead-in to a commercial is about a new food that could lead to cancer or what someone said that “you won’t believe.” If they can scare you or give you someone to be angry at, they’ve got your attention, which is what they need to pay the bills.

I have been thinking about this conversation a lot recently since election season has heated up. In Alabama, which I have called home for all but three of my forty-four years, our Governor, Kay Ivey, is up for reelection and has multiple Republican challengers. Our long-time Senator Richard Shelby is retiring, and three main contenders have emerged in the race to fill his seat.

In Alabama, like many states in the South and Midwest, the Republican primary is the de facto General Election, as Democrats rarely win statewide office. This affects the way that candidates run for office. Candidate’s election ads rarely mention any issues affecting daily life in Alabama. In fact, you could take the word “Alabama” out of the ads, and you would be hard-pressed to know what state the candidates were running in.

Candidates may say they dislike the media, but their ads are chocked full of the fear and loathing approach so many news stations use. Ads are riddled with warnings that liberals in Washington are coming for our guns, teaching kids to hate America, dividing the country by race, stealing national elections, importing illegal immigrants in droves so they can change the electorate, and seeking to indoctrinate young children with transgender ideology.

Even though Joe Biden isn’t running for elected office in Alabama, he is the villain of almost every TV ad. Katie Britt said she wants to go to Washington to fight his policies. Mike Durant called Biden a “disappointment” from the moment he wakes up in the morning. Governor Ivey recorded a 30-second spot in which she said that her mother told her that if she couldn’t say anything nice, she shouldn’t say anything at all. She then proceeded to say what she thought about Joe Biden, which was followed by ten seconds of her tapping on the desk and twiddling her thumbs. She closes the ad with the quip, “Poor Joe. Bless his heart.” (For my non-Southern readers, if someone from below the Mason-Dixon line says “bless your heart,” they are usually insulting you.)

I highly doubt that the trend I see is limited to one state or even to one side of the political aisle. I’m sure voters in the San Francisco Bay Area saw plenty of ads that mentioned Donald Trump during the 2018 Democratic primaries. My point is that we have to be aware of when candidates are trying to appeal to the basest of our emotions in order to win our vote.

In a Republic, we have the politicians that we ask for and elect. They campaign for our votes based on what they think we want to hear. Based on the ads I have seen recently, they think we want dogmatic stands on culture war issues that Congress will never settle and not much else. There’s precious little talk about substantive tax reform, specific energy policy, wise foreign policy, education, and criminal justice reform–which are all issues that need to be addressed by serious and wise leaders. However, we don’t tell our leaders that we want solutions to real issues, and we don’t get them. Instead, they hear that we are afraid and angry, so we get fear and loathing.

Our only choice in this election year is to get proactive. When candidates hold town hall meetings in your community, ask them tough questions about specific policies that affect people in your town. As candidates post their campaign ads on social media, respond to them and tell them what you would like to hear from them if they are going to gain your vote. When enough people do this, we will see something different from our leaders.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Bakal

Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”