More than $4 billion will be spent on the 2010 midterm elections -- the lion's share of it on advertising on television, radio, and even a bit on the Internet. But what are we getting for all that money? Thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, congressional campaign finance reform efforts that backfired, the cynicism of outside special interest groups, reckless challengers and frightened incumbents, mostly what we've gotten is a barrage of negativity that has dismayed even the most veteran observers
While some champions of good manners tout the virtues of "the civilogue," the midterm mudslinging
goes on unabated, most of it on the airwaves. True, this is a familiar lament every two years. But the cornucopia of attack ads in 2010 is not imaginary, and is reflective of a sour mood among the electorate, the close competitiveness of the struggle between the two major parties, and the sheer volume of the money being spent.
"When the economy is bad and things are not going well, candidates are not out there talking about how great things are," says Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. So what's a candidate to do in this anti-Washington, anti-incumbent campaign? "They are left," Tracey says, "with one option -- to talk about their opponent."
Yet it's not all incivility and character assassination out there. If you look, there are positive ads, some of them quite clever. Humor can still be effective, especially in campaign-produced-videos, which sometimes are posted directly on YouTube by the campaigns. At Politics Daily we identified examples -- bipartisan, of course -- of all three styles. And so, with all due respect to Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach
, here are our 2010 finalists in the categories of The Good, the Bad and the Funny.
Sarah Palin and Her "Mama Grizzlies."
There's a reason this slogan became famous -- it's an effective rallying cry for conservative women. "Moms kinda just know when something's wrong," Palin says in her distinctive voice.
"Here in Alaska I always think of the mama grizzly bears who rise up on their hind legs when somebody's coming to attack their cubs. . . . You don't wanna mess with the mama grizzlies."
EMILY's List Mama Grizzlies Rebuttal
. Disproving stereotypes about humor-challenged feminists, the liberal organization responded with an ad that is simultaneously light-hearted -- it features women dressed up with bear faces -- while also being a staunch argument for liberal positions being the rational ones.
Florida State Rep. Mike Weinstein's Rap Video
. Even most Floridians never heard of Weinstein, a Republican state legislator from the Jacksonville area until a video produced by (and staring) his son Leigh went viral
. "My goal was to try to come up with a campaign ad that wasn't attacking anyone or being negative," Mike Weinstein explained. He certainly succeeded.
John Hickenlooper in the "Shower" Ad.
"I can't stand negative ads," says Colorado's Democratic gubernatorial nominee. "Every time I see one I feel I need to take a shower." With that – Hickenlooper
, the current mayor of Denver, actually steps into the shower with his clothes on. It's a funny ad with a serious message -- and an ending quip.
Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway's "Aqua Buddha" Ad
. In this salacious spot
, Republican and senatorial candidate Rand Paul
is accused of belonging to a secret society in college "that called the Holy Bible a hoax" and of once tying up a woman and telling her he worshiped a God named "Aqua Buddha." The "hoax" angle is essentially fabricated, and the incident with the woman was a college hazing prank among friends that happened 30 years ago. Instead of hurting Rand Paul
, the ad apparently backfired on Conway
Carly Fiorina's "Demon Sheep" Ad
. Everyone who knows him thinks moderate Republican Tom Campbell
is smart and decent. By the time Fiorina's imaginative political consultant Fred Davis
got done with him during the Senate primary in California, Campbell was Satan's spawn -- in sheep's clothing. Davis also did the high-risk ("I am not a witch
," ad for Christine O'Donnell, spot that even the controversial Delaware Senate candidate now thinks would have worked better without the first five words
Abe Lincoln Ad by Alabama Republican Rick Barber
. In this ad
, the tea party favorite running in the Republican primary in Alabama's second congressional district compares the health care overhaul to slavery. That alone made it one of the most over-the-top ads of the year, but when Barber added a picture showing the notorious gates at Auschwitz, he earned the dubious distinction of airing one of the most offensive ads ever. (Barber lost in the primary to Martha Roby
Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson's "Taliban Dan" Ad
. This spot
, an attack on Daniel Webster
, a conservative Republican challenging Grayson
in Florida's 8th
congressional district, might be the most dishonest ad of the year (although a previous Grayson ad
claiming -- inaccurately -- that Webster was a draft dodger would also be in the running. As pointed out by Politifact
, the "Taliban Dan" spot uses a snippet from a 2009 Webster speech to a religious men's group in which his quote is doctored so that he's heard telling women, "Submit to me." Actually, Webster was making the exact opposite point.
Jerry Brown, "The Most Interesting Man in California" Ad
. "When reporters interview him they are known to get lost in his piercing brown eyes." Jerry Brown
also is said to have once balanced the budget "with only a stern look" and coached the L.A. Lakers on the weekends. The "Stay Jerry, My Friends
" spoof is based on the campy Dos Equis campaign, and it had all the political world talking, and laughing along with him
Dan Freilich's "Old Spice" Parody
. Freilich, a physician in the Naval Reserve ran in the Democratic primary against Sen. Patrick Leahy
and received only 11 percent of the vote. Now he's running as an independent, and aficionados of humorous ads are glad he did. But Freilich is actually a serious guy who favors public financing of campaigns, single-payer health and senators who accept no special interest money.
Call Me, Senator: Anti-Barbara Boxer Ad
. This negative spot was produced by David Zucker, a rare Hollywood conservative, and it turns a real moment
in the Senate career of Barbara Boxer
into an absurd and hilarious send-up.
China in 2030 Ad by Citizens Against Government Waste
. This powerful one-minute commercial is reminiscent tonally of the great Apple Computer ads of years gone by. A call for fiscal prudence, the ad is done in Chinese with subtitles, and features a Chinese professor talking to Chinese business students. Observant commentators
have noticed that the ad copy doesn't really reflect how China runs its own economy, but the spot has a punch line that is both humorous and ominous: "Now they work for us."