Our opinion: Rhetoric that distorts the facts

Tuesday October 9, 2012

The runup to the major holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christ mas seems to come earlier every year. It’s the same way with political advertisements. It’s not unusual to see Halloween decorations in local stores before Labor Day anymore, so it’s not extraordinary when political TV ads start popping up in the middle of baseball season. Part of this wall-to-wall coverage is due to the 24-hour news cycle established by the modern media, while some of it seems to be aimed at those with short attention spans who prefer tweeting and texting to meeting and speaking. But this seemingly endless election cycle might be a little easier to handle if the candidates themselves actually had something to say.

Political ads, on television especially, seem mostly designed to denigrate an opponent. In the Berkshires, where most of our major television networks have affiliates based in Albany, N.Y., that means we receive a lot of information about races that will have no affect on us. It makes us voyeurs, in a way. We learn more nasty tidbits about New York politicians Chris Gibson, Julian Schreibman, Matt Doheny and Bill Owens than we could ever care to know. Meanwhile, our own Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown seems to be taking place in another country. Unfortunately, what little information we do receive about Warren and Brown is mostly negative, too.

None of this negative saturation coverage really helps the voters. Ask yourself this: How do you make an informed decision when all you get is rhetoric? And most of it is distorted. Even at the presidential level. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have always accused each other of distorting the facts, something that’s not unique among politicians running for elected office. But now that Mr. Romney was judged to have won last week’s debate, their camps are taking things to a different level by blatantly accusing each other of lying. Mr. Obama’s adviser David Axelrod has called Mr. Romney "devoid of honesty," a deliverer of "fraudulent" lines, and a man who was "hiding the truth and the facts." Not to be outdone, Mr. Romney’s camp countered with spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg beseeching the president to stop telling "lies" about Romney’s record. Some of the rhetoric has begun to swing toward the jibber-jabber espoused by pro wrestlers on "Monday Night Raw" when they hurl insults at each other before trying to smack their opponents with chairs. Maybe it’s a coincidence that the wife of the founder of World Wrestling Entertainment is a candidate for the Senate in Connecticut, and maybe it’s not.

Thankfully, our electorate isn’t as brain dead as those political advertisements would have you believe that it is. Integrity does still matter. An Associated Press -GfK poll last month found that 50 percent of likely voters picked Mr. Obama as the candidate "who more often says what he believes" compared to Mr. Romney’s 42 percent. A Pew Research Center poll found that 48 percent of registered voters believed Mr. Obama was more "honest and truthful" while only 34 percent believed that Mr. Romney was. And in a CBS News/New York Times poll, 58 percent of the participants described Mr. Obama as honest and trustworthy compared to Mr. Romney’s 53 percent (participants were asked to judge each candidate separately).

Obviously, people can see through the rhetoric whether the candidates want us to or not. Maybe there’s still some hope for us.


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