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Davis, California

Monday, October 18, 2021

Column: Cheap rhetoric

In January, campaign finance reform stepped away from any real reform at all. The Supreme Court’s contentious decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission enforced the idea that corporate donations to political campaigns may not be banned, blurring the distinction between business and personal campaign donations.

So with the California June ballot approaching, it seems like the newfound freedom for big businesses and interest groups to contribute to campaigns would, at the very least, improve the quality of campaign advertisements. Since no such improvement has occurred, there’s every reason to complain.

It’s not surprising, really. I’m aware that this unfavorable description has always been an unwritten requirement in campaign advertisement code. Without access to TV or cable, it’s also easy to avoid the mess of campaign ads during election season since the Internet makes filtering through the muck a whole lot easier.

But it’s still no excuse. Political ads remain as strong indicators of our lax and distorted campaign regulations. It also reminds us that our forerunner politicians and their campaign teams lack creative talent to match their funding. Whether conveyed in commercials, books, rhetorical documentaries or anything else, money can’t help these advertisements.

And these ads aren’t just deceptive. They’re terribly put together. Take California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina’s recent “Demon Sheep Ad” on YouTube, which falls somewhere between a high school video project and a PowerPoint presentation. Without going into too much detail, the commercial whines and complains about rival Tom Campbell’s record, inserting random images of sheep and pigs in between low-resolution shots of Campbell. In the end, someone in a sheep costume and a cardboard mask crawls around with red eyes – most likely trying to think of more cheap metaphors for future ads.

The California campaign for governor has seen its fair share of ridiculousness, too. Republican candidates Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman have recently provided the media with a buffet of questionable material and investigative leads. A recent Los Angeles Times article highlighted the exaggerated distortions in both candidates’ ads in their attempts to portray each other as too liberal – and overall, it’s pretty safe to say both candidates are terrible.

Whitman, the former eBay CEO, recently released an autobiography that opened the door for further scrutiny. A later L.A. Times article printed Tuesday found her tied to “lucrative” arrangements with Goldman Sachs, among other unsavory findings.

Poizner himself isn’t new to distortions and exaggerations. NPR’s “This American Life” reported that Poizner had severely misrepresented a San Jose high school he briefly taught at in his book, titled Mount Pleasant: What Happened When I Traded a Silicon Valley Board Room for an Inner City Classroom. As faculty from the high school and other locals reveal, Poizner used his book to dramatize student apathy, misreport local violence statistics and plainly insult the school’s character. It’s almost as if he, say, completely lied about his experience in order to benefit his campaign.

In the end, the fact that these advertisements so severely distort the truth is a major problem. The fact that corporations are allowed to continually find these advertisements only makes it seem like the problem will never end. Our campaign finance laws are desperately in need of repair, to say the least.

And really, this all only goes to show that none of these above-mentioned candidates are nearly as great as they say. No surprises here.

JUSTIN T. HO knows it’s a pretty big stretch to consider terrible political ads and corny books creative. He also finds it hard to keep up with the political ads without cable, since it’s hard to consciously decide to watch something as terrible as a local car dealership commercial via the Internet. E-mail him at arts@theaggie.org.

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