Finally, in a couple days, the damnable ads will be over. The Baldwin-Thompson race will go into the history books as the nastiest political election ever, the most expensive election in Wisconsin history, and the second-most expensive U.S. Senate race in the nation.
The final tally is not yet in, but we already know a few things with more than a fair amount of certainty. The race between Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson will be recorded as the meanest, nastiest, most disgusting political race in our lifetimes. 99% of the ads run in this race were negative. That’s not a figure from some think-tank or foundation that’s really a front for conservative or liberal money. It’s the figure released by a number of university-based research groups, like the Wesleyan Media Project.
Week after week, we heard Tommy question Tammy’s patriotism and Tammy question Tommy’s patriotism. Tommy said he wasn’t questioning Tammy’s patriotism, he was questioning her judgment. But that’s not the image that was portrayed in the attack ads he ran about one of Tammy’s 12 votes concerning the 9-11 victims. Tommy’s ads were filled with visual symbolism (like the constant presence of the U.S. flag on screen) and rife with patriotic platitudes, mouthed by people who were boldly identified as members or former members of the armed services, if not actually in uniform. Those images say “patriotism”, not judgment.
Tammy’s ads were equally obnoxious, using pictures of Tommy looking old and haggard, a clear visual implication that Tommy is no longer an energetic cheerleader for the state, but an old, wrinkled white man who cashed in on his connections. And there was Tammy’s ad implying that Tommy was fully invested in Iran’s quest to build a nuclear weapon, complete with some boyish announcer who constantly mispronounced “Iran” – which I’m not sure was an act of stupidity on the announcer’s part, or a deliberate attempt by the Baldwin forces to use the popular mispronunciation “eye-RAN” to invoke another emotional tug from low-education low-information voters.
And will any of us ever forget Tammy yelling “You Damn Right” several hundred times a week in Karl Rove’s attack ads?
According to reliable, reputable non-partisan research groups (like the Annenberg Foundation’s Public Policy Center) two Wisconsin TV markets – Madison and Green Bay – were among the top five in the nation for political spending. The Baldwin-Thompson race accounted for more than 35 million dollars in TV ad buys – the most in Wisconsin history. As of the end of last week, Wisconsinites were exposed to an average of 763 ads a day in the Presidential race (counting the ad buys in Wisconsin’s five largest TV markets – Neilsen breaks WI into 8 markets) and a stunning 852 ads a day in the Baldwin-Thompson race.
Most of these TV ads (in the 80% range) were paid for by a very small group (fewer than 100) of extremely wealthy people. As the graphic at the top of this rant illustrates, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for essentially unlimited funds from essentially anonymous donors. And don’t kid yourself: both sides have cashed in on the Citizens United decision.
Had the entire nation been exposed to the incessant drumbeat of “You Damn Right” and “He’s Not For You Any More” that Wisconsinites have had to stomach for the past month or so, it might have been enough to create the tipping point of revulsion that will motivate an aroused citizenry to force meaningful change in the crooked game of money and politics.
But I’m afraid that it’s going to take a couple more election cycles and another round or two of disgusting, misleading, nasty TV ads to finally motivate the people of this country to demand change.
After all, it’s time for us to start “enjoying” the Black Friday ads again.