Here’s a prescription for anyone digesting this year’s presidential campaign advertising: Take it with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of skepticism.
Most national polls of likely voters show that President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are running a close contest for the White House. North Carolina is generally thought to be one of a small number of very closely contested states where the candidates will spend more money, place more advertising and sling more mud than elsewhere.
We can expect to see tons of presidential campaign advertising on television between now and November, much of it vicious, overstated and misleading.
Some of it will also be nothing short of a lie.
In criticizing a particularly dishonest pro-Obama ad that sensationalizes a woman’s cancer death, Romney complained Thursday during a radio interview, “You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why campaigns either pulled the ad, (or) they were embarrassed. Today they just blast ahead.” Romney is right about that.
But his campaign is doing the same thing.
In recent days, the Republican candidate’s own advertising has blasted the Obama administration for seeking to gut the welfare reforms of the 1990s. However, the White House memo on which that claim is based never proposed any such thing. Obama has consistently said that although he voted against some aspects of welfare reform as a state legislator in Illinois, he has come to see the compromises worked out between President Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress of that era as an important fix for well-intentioned programs that weren’t working.
One of the problems with a lie, of course, is that if repeated often enough, people come to believe it. The Obama campaign has been claiming that Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class. Reporting from some of the cable TV and online news media seems to have picked up this bait and begun to run with it. The Democrats are basing this assertion, which Romney has denied, on recent Congressional Budget Office analysis of Romney’s tax proposals that indicated Romney could only pay for his proposed cuts to upper-end tax rates by raising the rates for those in the middle, at least if he wants to collect the same revenue and economic conditions stay the same.
But that analysis doesn’t say what the Democrats are trying to make it say.
The Obama camp ignores several possibilities — Romney could embrace lower revenues through some combination of deficit spending or spending cuts, he could find some alternative means of creating federal revenue aside from income taxes or his policies could do what the 1964 tax cuts pushed by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson did in the early 1960s — stimulate enough economic growth and job creation to result in greater revenues despite lower tax rates for the wealthy.
Both campaigns have also been dishonest in their advertising on reproductive rights. Romney has balked at forcing companies to pay for contraceptions and abortions that violate business owners’ sacred beliefs, but hasn’t come close to calling for banning contraception, which is what some pro-Obama ads are claiming. The president’s policy on this same issue is controversial, but calling it a “war on religion,” as some pro-Romney ads have done, is dishonest; the president has shown courage and risked alienating many of his staunchest supporters by consistently reaffirming his sincere Christian faith. One can take issue with the president’s beliefs and policies, but claiming he’s waging a war on religion is both deceptive and a cheap shot.
To be sure, policy issues like Romney’s tax proposals, Obama’s welfare ideas and both candidates’ views on health care and religious freedom are fair game and voters should base their ultimate decisions on these kinds of issues.
But voters would be better off getting their information from credible news sources and not from broadcast advertising or direct mail campaigns, which are consistently dishonest and contemptuous of voters’ intelligence. The best defense of the republic is a well-informed electorate.