“Negative campaigning works!” You hear it or read it if you are interested in the mechanics of politics and the people who operate it. “That’s why we do it.”
Essentially there are two ways to win an election. One, get people to vote for you. Two, get people to not vote for your opponent.
Unfortunately one of our political parties has spent the last 40 years teaching Americans to hate their government. If everybody hates the thing you’re running for it’s much harder to tell someone a positive reason to vote for you. Except, “She’s terrible. You can’t vote for her!
Think of your own life. Now imagine someone takes at least a million dollars, and often more, and hires investigators to go back over every day of your personal life, looking for anything which might be dirt, or which might even be made to sound like dirt. Your life.
Say they went back to middle school or junior high. Because they would. “Hillary was a Goldwater Girl when she was 15. She’s a flip flopper.” Yes. That really happened on national TV and all over social media. Now we’re doing it with your life.
You can hire a lot of person-on-the-street hours with a million dollars, or five, or ten. Those people look for everybody you ever met who didn’t like you. They look for everybody who called you a slut or a fag in high school, and if they’re still mad at you they get them on video.
Did you get too drunk to walk and then drive home? Good. Plan to see that on TV in every major market. 37 times a week.
Were you a butt patter? (I was. It was the 1960’s and we hadn’t heard your side yet.) Plan to see every pitiful aged remnant of the flaming foxes you knew in the parties of your youth, on TV, telling America that you sexually assaulted them on 16 separate occasions.
Did you shoplift a pair of sunglasses when you were in junior high?Headlines. Today. Nationwide.
It’s even worse if you have dared to try to help run your society, from school board through US Senator. Every word you said in official business or campaigning for office, plus half of everything else you said during that time, is on official record and digital video. Ever say anything you wished afterward you hadn’t? Plan to hear that, every day, for the rest of your political life, any time you run for office or do anything that annoys somebody with money.
The odds are, if somebody spent, say, 7 million dollars digging up dirt on you, and 240 million dollars buying ads spreading that dirt nationwide on prime time TV and drive time radio, if you’re just a regular, mostly good person, they could make you look so bad your mother wouldn’t vote for you.
To make it better, your own party would do it too. We got rid of the bad old days where party pro’s got together and said, “Lucille looks good for the House, and Bob for the Senate, and…” picked candidates and people just went along with it. Now some old man and some old woman want to be president, and the next thing you know people supporting each of them are buying up dirt and putting it on TV. And Facebook. And Twitter.
The separate entities, the Democrats and the Republicans, the Sam campaign and the Mary campaign, don’t each have to hire their own flocks of investigators to do this. They used to, but it became so lucrative that investigators started searching out dirt on spec. Forming big multi-million dollar companies to dig dirt. Now when some campaign needs to butcher Mary’s reputation all they have to do is call one or more Opposition Research Professionals. Pretty soon if you wet your pants in second grade it will be on national TV.
None of the dollar figures I am using here are exaggerations. People really would spend that kind of money to savage your reputation and your public image if you ran for President. Maybe for Governor or Senator, depending on the state. Possibly even Representative if you’ve stumbled into a Media Frenzy Race.
Because the ads aren’t the big deal. What they really want is Free Media. If a campaign can run a really sneaky, nasty negative ad on you, they have a chance of getting all the Sunday morning TV shows to talk about it. “Did Mary really run over her neighbor’s dog over poop in her flowers? Video after these messages…”
And nobody will ever know whether you did in fact run over your neighbor’s dog out of spite or not. Fact will not be established. Even if you never drove a car, the TV station will have somebody on each side of the story. One will swear it didn’t happen. The other will swear it did. Next story.
Leaving aside for a moment the question of why anyone would run for any office anytime anywhere ever, why would anyone vote?
By the time the election rolls around everybody in the country is certain that at least one of the candidates is all the terrible things that have been reported plus more. In fact, the plus more, made up dirt industry is booming too.
Unfortunately, about half of the voters are convinced that both candidates are every bad thing that’s ever been said about them, and figure, why vote? It’s not the lesser of two evils, it’s the flip-a-coin no difference choice between two total slimeballs you wouldn’t trust in your house.
To add insult to injury, besides doing it to individual candidates they do it to political parties. Many of the people I talk to appear to be utterly convinced that both political parties are entirely corrupt and evil. Katherine Pickering Antonova, in The GOP is No Longer a Conservative Party (Huffington Post, July 25, 2017) gives the clearest definition of a political party I have ever seen: “Political parties are fundraising organizations attached to a policy platform.” A political party coalesces around a theory of government and raises money in order to get people elected and try to govern according to that theory.
If you’ve ever done, made, or attempted anything you are probably aware that theories never translate 100% into practice. So it is easy to slaughter the reputation of any political party. Almost no matter what they said they would do, it didn’t come out quite like that. So they didn’t do what they said they’d do. Liar, liar, pants on fire. And more Americans register as Independent than as either Democratic or Republican, even though Independent is technically defined as “no fundraising organization attached to no policy platform / theory of government.”
So over a third of voters hate both political parties and some unknown quantity appearing to be up around half of voters hate both candidates. Half the people don’t bother to vote. Can’t bear to vote.
The press and TV spends all the time between elections telling the American people that of all the candidates are being pushed into office for nefarious reasons by bunches of anonymous crooks called political parties, and none of them are fit to vote for anyway. Then the day after the election this same press corps looks up and says, Gee, why didn’t anybody vote? Couldn’t they see this was an important election?