I am deeply concerned about our democracy. I write as a former high school teacher of civics and American history. It’s one thing to read about “dark money” from special interests in Jane Mayer’s book, but it is quite another to see it played out in our living rooms with an avalanche of negative attack ads, most egregiously against Ted Strickland.
Corporate money and donations from super wealthy individuals have influenced elections throughout our history. But the scale of today’s influence peddling must be acknowledged and seen as a dangerous threat to our electoral system.
For example, Senator Portman, the Koch Brothers, and other out of state corporate interests have spent more than $60 million in “media buys” to attack former Governor Strickland. This is more money spent against Strickland than any other Democrat in the nation, including Hillary Clinton!
Thirty-second TV ads are not designed to inform voters about the merits of any candidate for any position. Attack ads are carefully crafted messages that cherry pick information designed to bias the viewer against a candidate’s opinion or position. That is the very definition of propaganda. Consider further that the images selected are crafted to appeal to our emotions, effectively bypassing our ability to form a rational opinion based upon facts. This is no way to inform the electorate in a democracy, and we all suffer under this system.
The attack ads against Ted Strickland deliberately distort his record as Governor. Unfortunately, the damage done by the ads far outweighs the ability of any letter to the editor to establish the truth. Ohio’s Rainy Day Fund is a classic example of attack ads distorting Strickland’s actual record. The fact is Ted Strickland used the fund appropriately during the Great Recession to protect local governments and schools from job loss so that the dire fiscal situation did not get worse.
There was no deficit under Strickland; he balanced the budget every year he was governor while overseeing a tax cut for every Ohioan. Strickland’s leadership during the Great Recession saw Ohio’s economy growing, not shrinking. In fact, Ohio had the fifth fastest growing economy in the nation, and the best in the Midwest during his last year in office.
Similarly, the attack ads distort Strickland’s record on jobs and the economy. In fact, Strickland has consistently opposed the trade deals that resulted in the loss of our manufacturing jobs, whereas Portman has been a champion of NAFTA and the so-called free trade agreements. Tax cuts? Strickland has proposed giving middle class families a $1,000 tax break. Portman, by contrast, has voted time and again to give tax cuts to large corporations and wealthy supporters.
The list goes on, issue after issue distorted in the attack ads. Strickland wants to protect and expand Social Security and Medicare. Portman wants to privatize it and turn it over to Wall Street. Portman has voted against allowing students to refinance their loans. Strickland actually froze college tuition and supports debt-free college for students.
We must put an end to a system that allows huge sums of money to deliberately create propaganda and distort the record of our candidates. As President Jimmy Carter has stated publicly, we are becoming more of an oligarchy and these attack ads are undermining our democracy.
— Charles Lynd