Going negative

As impossible as it seems, the presidential campaign season hasn’t always been ugly. Once upon a time, a candidate could vie for the oval office based on his own credentials, experience, dedication and enthusiasm to lead the nation. His opponent might run their campaign using the same strategy, with a little mudslinging back and forth but at least the main focus was on pressing issues of the time.

Fast forward a few decades and presidential campaigns have become a circus but without the fun, food or animal acts (which just leaves the freak show, I think). This election season more than ever, the only thing that seems to separate campaigning from the everyday school playground fight is the occasional “Yo Mama’s So Fat” joke, and people all over the country hate it. The other day, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney accused President Obama of saying and doing anything to hold on to power. Said Obama, “Nuh-uh.” The President then rebutted, saying that Romney is “unhinged” (whatever that means) to which the always exciting Romney replied, “I know you are but what am I?”

So if people see negativity and childish bickering as an obnoxious distraction from the real issues, why all the mudslinging, name calling, and finger pointing? It’s because it works. Studies have shown time and time again that key words and images of negative television and radio ads stand out in people’s subconscious, even though they consciously disapprove of negative campaigning. This year, negative campaign ads have hit an all time high, particularly because of the interest of private groups and the introduction of Super PACs that can now run political ads without the official approval a candidate. The biggest challenge facing voters now is the punches wildly being thrown by both candidates while voters are caught in between and are always the ones left with a black eye. Come November, the people will need to sift through all the smears and jeers from both political parties to find a reason to vote for either Romney or Obama, that is if they aren’t discouraged by then from voting at all.

Really, negative campaigns have become so prevalent that I’m not entirely sure who to vote for more than I know who to vote against. It’s unfortunate that as a voter, I don’t know exactly where either candidate stands on critical issues simply because so much effort is made by the Democratic and GOP parties to distort both candidates’ past – the last four years in Obama’s case, the last four decades for Romney. It makes sense that if either candidate wanted a vote for them (instead of against their opponent), they wouldn’t leave America in the dark when it comes to their actual game plan for the next four years. Maybe I’ll just follow the late Andy Rooney’s advice: Vote for the candidate with the best looking tie.

Naturally, we can expect to be caught in the crossfire of attack ads until November. With all that happened in the past week – mainly Wisconsin Governor Paul Ryan chosen by Romney to run on the Republican ticket and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie selected as the keynote speaker for the Republican National Convention – I really believe the Republican Party hit the self-destruct button and is already planning for the 2016 elections, which means plenty of finger pointing and trash talk to come.

As absurd as they are, I don’t suggest we ban negative campaigns (you know, because of that whole freedom of speech thing) but it would be refreshing to see and hear a candidate run for office based on his or her own credentials and platform. As a voter, I hope both candidates are able to pick and choose their battles carefully in the upcoming presidential debates (I also hope for time travel but I don’t think that will ever happen either). Too much effort’s being wasted on misconstrued statements that just don’t matter, like Romney saying he likes being able to fire people or the whole Obama “you didn’t build that” fiasco a few weeks back, or virtually anything said by Joe Biden. We all know he’s an easy target by now.

I want to hear the things that I care about without being caught in the crossfire. It’s easy to criticize those who are leading, even easier to blindly follow them; I just want to see a reason to be optimistic between now and election day.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunshawn.

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