Once again the latest election cycle sets an all time record for money spent on television and radio political advertisements by the candidates, the political committees and interested parties.
These thirty second political pitches, with their imagery, emotion, background music and professional announcers, seem to enrage almost everybody, in calmer moments, but almost everybody in politics uses them enthusiastically. What to do?
Well, here is a practical suggestion: a National Blink-off Proclamation signed by millions of voters who pledge to blink-off all television political ads no matter which side they are coming from. The second part of the pledge will commit signers to exercise their vote based on the records of the candidates and evaluating written materials, debates and discussions.
If the people cannot now get their political representatives -so called — to pass legislation cleaning up the money in politics rot, then the people can in large numbers blink-off the tube. Every time, a viewer refuses to watch a political ad, that viewer is nullifying the manipulative intent of the politicians and their cohorts. The viewer is also adding to the pressure to have deliberate debates, more display of voting records in full by the candidates, and more public accountability sessions with citizens and incumbents who have such a built-in advantage to begin with.
Back in the early Eighties, John O’Toole, then head of the large Madison Avenue advertising firm of Foote Cone and Belding, argued in his book “The Trouble With Advertising” that such political ads on television should be prohibited. They were so empty of content and absent of candidate, he seemed to believe, that they don’t even qualify as speech.
Mr. O’Toole worked on a Republican Presidential campaign and was thoroughly disgusted by his experience. The advertising executive’s proposal brushes aside probable constitutional challenges, but his warnings about what this will do to our democracy and elections have been borne out with each election period’s excesses.
Many people, watching one campaign finance proposal after another go down to defeat, feel frustrated. Some reformers have started qualifying statewide referenda, with modest victories in Missouri, Montana and, the best reform yet, in Maine. Two more referenda are on the Arizona and Massachusetts ballots this month.
But there is more to be done. And a galvanizing, ever growing National Blink-off Proclamation signed by people, either directly or through an Internet website, can approach the year 2000 election with a truly grass roots mobilization of millions who are connected to one another for repeated reaffirmations.
Legislators respect big numbers of people behind a common cause of electoral reform such as public financing of public elections through a voluntary checkoff on tax returns. But they really would be awed by a mass blink-off because of the determination that such a turning-away from these vapid political ads represents.
People can wear blink-off buttons, place such bumper-stickers on their cars and grace their websites with similar declarations.
If you are interested in joining the national blink-off campaign, write to the Blink-off, P. 0. Box 19312, Washington, DC 20036