Choice was between lesser of two evils
WASHINGTON -- Has there ever been a more negative, more dispiriting election? Is this the best the great American system of democracy can do? Isn't there any hope and optimism left in this country, or is our political culture based on nothing but seething dislike and sour resentment?
Democrats and Republicans sought to win voters with the same basic message: You may not think much of us. But whatever our failings, at least we're better than those other guys. You've got to make a choice whether you like it or not, and we're the best you can do. Deal with it.
It reminds me of former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry's re-election campaigns, when one of his slogans was, "I'm not perfect, but I'm perfect for Washington.'' In other words, I'm all you deserve.
Anyone who owns a television or a radio already knows that candidates and parties in this midterm smack down spent tons more on negative political ads as on positive ones. Every contest seemed to feature a scoundrel versus a knave, a hack versus an idiot, or a doofus versus a dolt. In some cases, yes, those characterizations were pretty accurate. But the law of averages says that at least a few honest, intelligent men and women must have been running for office somewhere in the land.
Politicians use so many negative ads because they work. One scientist, UCLA psychiatry professor Marco Iacoboni, told the Associated Press that his research from the 2004 presidential campaign suggested that negative ads cause voters to lose empathy for their preferred candidate. Using magnetic resonance imaging, Iacoboni found that when test subjects initially saw pictures of their favored candidates, an area of the brain associated with empathy lit up. But after the subjects saw negative ads about their candidates, that same area of the brain failed to respond.
Politicians have known this for a long time. If I can't make people more enthusiastic about voting for me, they reason, then at least I can make them less enthusiastic about voting for my opponent.
The depressing nature of this endless campaign went beyond negative ads, however. Examine the messages that were delivered by the two parties, and then try to find a reason to be filled with hope about the future.
If these midterm campaigns were a tune-up for the presidential contest in 2008, it's going to be a long two years. Americans deserve more from their political leadership than they got this year. The party that gets to define the next era in America will be the party that has a more compelling, forward-looking story to tell than what we heard this year, which was, in a nutshell, "Those other guys are so lame.''
Tell us something we don't already know.