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Never base a vote on stupid political ads

Alan Braunholtz

Bold type shrieks FOR and AGAINST, trying to pigeonhole candidates into boxes fabricated from half-truths. But people, issues and decisions are too complex to sum up with a few misleading, out-of-context sentences.

The few ads I do like are understated and thoughtful statements by candidates trying to explain who they are.

Recently a particularly bizarre ad spawned by some struggling Machiavellian wannabe at the local Republican Party blew me away.

Under the petrified gaze of a bald eagle, alternating black and red ink “sampled” diverse facts that played with all the logic and discord of my nephew’s first attempt at a CD mix. He scored high points for noise – but not much else.

Apparently the creation of the Environmental Protection Act under Nixon in 1969 proves that current Republicans are pro-environment. Well forget that. It was actually 1970 and that Democrats and Republicans acted together to embrace a tide of environmental awareness. But if your best evidence for pro-environmental credentials is 32 years old, you’re in trouble.

The reason the eagle is scared: For the last 20 years most Republicans have steadily undermined the EPA as a hindrance to the freedom to pollute. In March 2002 the head of regulatory enforcement at EPA stepped down in protest, saying the EPA “is fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce.”

Next the ad claims credit for the balanced budget of 1995, conveniently forgetting the president in charge then, that Clinton person. If you’re going to speak of balanced budgets, what about the present Congress and President Bush’s reversal of a huge budget surplus to a large deficit in two years? You can’t pass all the blame and the puck on to the recession and Sept. 11.

Forty percent of our present budget deficit is due to the dubiously named Economic Growth and Tax Relief Act, a big tax cut for the rich.

I have to hand it to the PR wizards that can sell tax breaks for corporations and the ultra-wealthy (the estate tax falls squarely here, too) at the expense of social investments we clearly need (affordable health care, education) as good for the working man and woman.

The word freedom is in vogue these days. I prefer the old-fashioned “Liberty.” It’s more powerful and less easily attached and diluted, i.e. free trade, free markets, etc.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism act, or the acronym USA PATRIOT, sounds too good to be true and it is. Anyone who puts that much effort into a title is more worried about image than content.

This act is a panicked response to terrorism that greatly increases federal police power in the face of freedoms established by Jefferson and other founding patriots.

The government used laws already on the books to squash the Taliban. The terrorists weren’t stopped because of a lack of competence, not lack of laws. Check out the American Civil Liberties Union Web site http://www.aclu.org/safeandfree for a report on these new powers.

“Liberty” features prominently in our history, along with “self evident” and “for all men,” so a politician who can stare down the herd of stampeding emotions that swept Washington after Sept. 11 and vote to protect liberty, one of the foundations of our country, is doing well.

Open government is another casualty. The freedom of Information Act and right to know laws are being ignored in this fight for freedom. Openness encourages citizen participation and prevents corruption better than anything else I know. Now any industry can hide its operations behind a “Critical Infrastructure Info” label and not even regulators or the courts can find out what and how much toxins they’re dumping into the air and water.

Still, secrecy is the name of the game for this administration. The Enron embarrassment scuttled those proud early business metaphors of “America Inc.” and the “CEO President,” but the secret boardroom culture still prevails. Information is protected as an asset to be used and shared only in cozy deals. Outsiders, i.e. employees, investors or citizens, don’t need to know. “No citizen activism, thanks. Just keep shopping, the board can handle it. Trust us!”

Executive decisions are followed unquestionably or you’re fired. It’s the “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. Whatever happened to the exchange of ideas, political partisanship between the different branches of government, cooperation and other aspects of democracy?

I personally think that the timing of the Iraq Resolution Act reeks of underhanded maneuvering. To quote Bush’s chief of staff, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” I guess Iraq distracts from the old “products” of the economy, corporate scandals and the ongoing rehabilitation of Afghanistan. Scheduling a war vote right before elections intimidates candidates from engaging in a real debate on the pros and cons of going to war with and without U.N. support.

Bush the elder had the decency to wait till after the elections before scheduling his war vote. He valued our representatives being able to vote their conscience without the threat of jingoistic attack ads in a looming election. You have to respect anyone who follows their conscience in the face of such manipulation, knowing it will cost them votes.

All in all, this Republican ad is not only a nasty attack ad on a candidate who has (with his opponent) campaigned honorably. Its assumption of our ignorance and gullibility by nonsensical “fact” selection is insulting.

I never vote for stupid ads.

Alan Braunholtz, ski instructor and raft guide, writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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