Why I miss Ross Perot: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama ads are full of outright lies
Mitt Romney and President Obama are taking a break today from negative campaigning in honor of Sept. 11. But that doesn't change the outright lies dominating political ads this season. We need a viable third party to help keep these two candidates and their super PACs honest.
Did you know that Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steel workerâs wife? Or that President Obama gutted the work requirement for welfare? Do you remember Mr. Obamaâs famous âApology Tourâ that kicked off his first term? How about that then-Governor Romney outsourced thousands of Massachusetts jobs to India?
Itâs amazing what you can learn from ads in this yearâs presidential campaign: namely,Â some of our political leaders and their supporters are lying. Not stretching the truth or spinning the facts (which we expect) but outright lying. While advertising shouldnât be your main source of education, it also shouldnât be a source of disinformation.
FactCheck.org has never been so busy. You can spend hours on their website, watching them pull threads that unravel almost every statement made in almost every political ad of this long campaign season. If you Google âlies in 2012 presidential campaign ads,â you get 224,000,000 hits.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this piece misidentified the name of the Annenberg Public Policy website FactCheck.org.]
As an American, Iâm disgusted. As a guy who makes ads for a living, Iâm shocked. (And itâs hard to shock an ad guy). Imagine Coke and Pepsi running ad campaigns that attack the other brand. And I donât mean the kinds of entertaining ads that show Pepsi truck drivers surreptitiously trying to order a Coke at a restaurant. I mean attack ads like our presidential candidates and their Super PAC supporters are running. Twisting facts. Accusing the other side of horrible labor practices. Personal attacks on the other brandâs CEO.
Both soft-drink brands would pay a price for that kind of advertising. Consumers would punish them by taking their dollars elsewhere. Our free market would work. The No. 3 soda-maker would make headway. Ice tea sales would go up. Boutique brands like Jones Soda and Izze would reap the benefits.
Regardless of what you think about consumer advertising, you have to admit, itâs at a higher level than 90 percent of all political ads. Itâs more entertaining, more artful, and yes, more honest. Contrary to what political candidates seem to think, you can move people without bashing the other side and without misusing facts. Consumer brands do it everyday. In fact, facts usually get in the way of persuasion. Most people make most of their decisions with their hearts, not their minds.
So why does political advertising remain so negative and so dishonest? You might say because it works, but Iâd like to offer another explanation: There is simply no meaningful penalty for misusing the facts in political campaigns. No free market forces to punish the candidatesâ bad behavior. As long as they both do it â and we only have two choices â you canât take your vote elsewhere. You can sue. But those lawsuits get settled after election day.
Ironically, in a (mostly) free-market democracy, where there are hundreds of brands of cookies on the grocery store shelf, there are only two candidates on the ballot. Thatâs exactly one more choice than the Syrians have.
Letâs say there were five presidential candidates and two of them engaged in a war of disinformation and personal attacks. Voters would become disgusted and take a closer look at the other three candidates. But with only two candidates, the reward for disregarding the truth is simply too high. If you can destroy your opponent, you win. You donât have to stand for anything; you just have to be the last one standing.
Itâs easier to âSwift Boatâ your opponent, as George W. Bush supporters did to John Kerry in 2004, than it is to win by spelling out your platform in great detail. In fact, thereâs a risk to that, and thatâs why youâre not seeing either candidate in this election get terribly specific â though Obama looks to have been more specific than the Romney-Ryan camp â about how they would pay for the things they want to do.
We need more parties, more choices, more solutions. Even one weak third party-challenger in the mainstream would help keep these two campaigns and their PACs honest. I never thought Iâd miss Ross Perot, but I do. If competition works for capitalism, it should work for democracy, too.
Jim Sollisch is creative director atÂ Marcus ThomasÂ Advertising.