Those negative political ads: Make them stop!

I’ve been quiet long enough.  Somebody must say it.  The negative political ads must stop.  Now.  More than ever, they just need to go away.

Notice I didn’t say “all” political ads must stop.  Just the negative ones.  The ones with the focus-group buzz words, labels and name-calling.

Please note, I have nothing against commercials.  Whether you’re advertising used cars, retirement living, or supermarket specials, I’m all for you.  You make my paycheck possible, and I appreciate it.

But in a world filled with hatred, partisanship, and anger, the last thing we need right now are candidates for our state and nation’s highest offices stooping ever lower by the day.

It’s nothing new, I know.  Long before the age of high-powered, national-PAC funded consultants, politicians were slinging mud at each other.  In the early days of newspapers, cartoonists and pundits were questioning candidates’ heritage and morals.  Our history books are filled with slogans and epithets, quite racy for the 19th century, accusing politicos of extra-marital affairs, mixed-race romance, and fathering children out of wedlock.  Perhaps I should be thankful that the harshest labels that are thrown around today are usually “liberal” and “moderate.”

I grew up in Alabama, where four-term Governor George Wallace successfully practiced, and later apologized for incredibly nasty campaign tactics.  He lost his first bid for governor, famously learning he had been beaten in the game of gutter politics, and vowed never to let that happen again.  Four years later, and many times after that, he took the much lower road.  He never again lost a statewide election.

(Ironically, in 1982, while frail and in constant pain, he won his fourth and final term due to his sincere remorse about his previous tactics. He apologized to those he had offended, and won enough of their votes to prevail.)

The national political consultants would never state this publicly, but they learned a valuable lesson from Wallace’s success: many of us simply won’t to go to the polls to vote “for” someone.  It takes a lot for us to get out of our easy chair, slip on some clothes, start the car, and go vote.  It isn’t enough, apparently, to cast a ballot for that nice man, or that qualified lady.  But give us a villain to vote against, and we’re on the way!

Some might argue, “What’s wrong with that?”  Certainly, if two people are running for the same seat, and one of them is believed to be downright terrible, an “against” vote may be warranted.  Surveys have shown that most of the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were actually anti-votes against either Clinton or Trump.

But the current nonstop barrage of negativity can’t be good for our collective psyche.  Doesn’t it sometime seem like these ads are written and produced on one big national assembly line, with a “fill in the blank” for the candidate’s names?  This person is “the only true conservative.”  Another person is “Trump’s best friend.” Still another is “Trump’s worst enemy.”

Photos of opposing candidates are edited to make them look evil and menacing.  If candidate John Doe ever got a parking ticket, the negative ad is likely to say, “John Doe BREAKS THE LAW.  Do you want a CRIMINAL representing you?”

There are some well-known elected officials who have said privately that they regret some of the advertising tactics that helped put them into office. In each case, they claim their campaign officials went too far, and in retrospect, they wish their tone had been more civil.  But would they employ the same tactics again, if it meant the difference between winning and losing? We all know the answer to that.  This successful strategy begs the question: is it their fault for dishing out the hateful words, or is it our fault for eating them up?

Even the few positive ads are factory-made, rubber stamp.  Do all our political hopefuls wear plaid/checked shirts, carry guns, inherit their deep religious convictions from saintly parents, and somehow amass million dollar fortunes by “starting from scratch?” No doubt, some of this is real.  But when you see it over and over, you start to wonder, don’t you?

If the constant bombardment of negative advertising bothers you as much as it does me, let’s agree to do something about it.  Whether you see a candidate in person, or you prefer to send a letter or e-mail, or post on their Facebook page, you can tell them what I did.

Dear political candidate, Just a heads-up: I will NOT vote for anyone who runs a negative ad about another candidate. Just tell me what YOU will do to make my part of the world a better place. Do you want my vote? It’s that easy.

The ball is in our court. Only we can stop the noise.


About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

5 thoughts on “Those negative political ads: Make them stop!

  1. Rita T

    This article is great. It also opens the door to people possibly meeting in the middle. Too much hate right now. We need to go with what’s best for everyone and positivey can definitely go a long way. We do live in a wonderful place and if we could make it so much better if we could just stop being so hateful, be open minded.

  2. Oscar Brock

    Thanks, David. I agree completely. Political ad-makers use negative advertising, they say, because it works. I think it’s mostly because they are not clever enough to find ways to inspire voters, to make us go the the polls FOR something or someone.

    And I admire your decision – not voting for those that use negative advertising. We should all be that courageous. Maybe we would see a bit more civility in political discourse.

    1. David Carroll

      Thanks for the kind words. I hesitated about speaking out, but after watching TV over the weekend, I decided it couldn’t hurt!

  3. Jerry Lingerfelt

    Sadly, the Internet has opened the doors to so many people with strong opinions and no bridles that I have found myself having thoughts of losing long time friendships due to this rage. I have been disappointed by the nastiness and absolute lies that have been sent by friends on both side of the political isle. This is not new as you state but the available platforms are and it is too easy to just fire off an email, tweet, FB etc. without checking or even caring if it is correct or not as long as it fits your agenda or beliefs. Guilty myself, especially the ones that I found to be funny or clever. Finally you may find it difficult to find someone with which to cast your vote. I read somewhere that just as you are pleased at finding faults, you are displeased with finding perfection. Lavater.

  4. Kent Teffeteller

    David, I want to see them all be replaced by free PSA announcements, with the candidate’s name only, and vote in the year of election for the candidate of your choice. Every candidate on the ballot gets an equal number of announcements in equal rotation.


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