CNN reports that the two major parties spent $4 billion this year on Senate and House races, most of it on television advertising. That doesn't count money spent on local contests.
Now let's just think: How many nonpolitical TV commercials have you seen in your life? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Yet you rarely see a car commercial that makes you angry, or an ad for a dishwashing liquid that makes you want to Elvis your TV. Most of us will even suffer through adult diaper commercials without feeling strongly about them one way or another. Cat people will watch dog food commercials, and vice versa, without complaint.
So why can't politicians make campaign commercials that don't leave us screaming at the TV?
Think of all the airline ads you've seen. They're all competing against one another, but they rarely mention the competition. Their ads are all pretty much the same: You see a plane flying, it lands in some beautiful Shangri-la -- a place you would love to visit if you had the money. Then a bunch of happy, smiling passengers get off the plane looking as if they had just stepped out of a relaxation booth.
You watch the ad, but you don't stand up and yell, "That's a lie! Those people just spent 10 hours on the tarmac and the toilets overflowed and not one of them is going to get their luggage! How can they get away with putting that kind of stuff on television? There oughta be a law. I want equal time! I will never fly that airline again!"
Since the biggest difference between most airlines is the color of the flight attendants' uniforms, you have to wonder why they advertise at all. You just buy the cheapest seat you can get. Who cares what name is painted on the side of the plane?
How many fast-food commercials have you seen where the fast-food restaurant is spotless, and the staff is friendly and smart enough to make correct change? Yet we all know from experience that that is stretching the truth.
Shampoo and beer commercials aren't really selling shampoo and beer. They're selling you a better life. Use this shampoo and men will fall at your feet; drink this beer and a supermodel will be your girlfriend and you'll live on a beach in the Bahamas.
But political commercials aren't just annoying, they are offensive. Even to their supporters! Every time the guy I liked ran an ad, I would think, "Is that the best he can do? Nobody's going to fall for that crap. Why doesn't he say this? Why doesn't he say that? Doesn't anyone in his campaign office watch TV? Have they ever seen a commercial before?"
I figure if your commercial offends your supporters, you're doing it wrong.
Why don't politicians do what the airlines do? Show the candidate's plane flying through the air. It lands in a beautiful place -- the future -- where Arabs and Israelis walk down the street holding hands, everyone has a high-paying job, no one pays any taxes, there are no potholes, cars run on used coffee grounds, all teens are well-adjusted and happy, stocks never go down, there are no drug addicts, all children behave, schoolteachers get paid like basketball players and basketball players get paid like teachers, all marriages last forever, lawyers don't file frivolous lawsuits, and CEOs give their employees a raise before they give one to themselves.
Wouldn't you want to buy some of that?