I would never urge anyone not to vote in an election, but I’ve been reviewing campaign mailers from candidates for county, legislative and congressional races throughout the suburbs and this conclusion is inescapable: If you base your voting decision on the political advertising you see, that may be worse than if you did not vote at all.
Keep in mind that this conclusion applies to both major parties and to nearly every candidate. For that reason, I’m not naming specific individuals in the examples I will cite. I don’t want to give the impression that any campaign is more or less culpable than any other. The truth is they’re all guilty.
The mailer was paid for by the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Whatever your position on the tax hike itself, the measure was written, sponsored and promoted entirely by Democrats. The veto override that made the tax hike law was supported by 61 of 67 Democrats in the House and for that vote, the incumbent targeted was one of six Republicans with excused absences. If “our families” were “slammed by a 32 percent tax increase,” it was overwhelmingly the Democratic Party that did the slamming.
A more common practice of campaigns and mailers is the manufacture of demons to whom they can pretend a candidate’s fealty on the barest of evidence. Indeed, if you didn’t know better, you would think based on the themes of campaign mailers that there are only two people running for every office in the state – Donald Trump and Mike Madigan.
Democratic mailers conjure a sinister partnership between nearly every Republican and what they almost universally describe as President Trump’s “extreme agenda.” Republican mailers summon sometimes-laughably diabolical images of Democrats paying homage to Speaker Madigan.
Often, the approaches are pure boilerplate templates. A “Helping Madigan Buy More Time”-themed mailer is virtually identical in at least two separate House districts. The only difference is the name of the candidate being targeted. In two other races, the theme is “Do The Math,” but the process is the same: Use identical text and images to claim the candidates are “owned” by Madigan but simply change their names and the amount donated to them by the Democratic Party. Neither of them, by the way, names the candidate voters should support.
Such negativity is overwhelming. In mailing after mailing, the approach is to severely distort some action or statement and use a clever charade of superscripts and footnotes to provide a show of authenticity.
If this sort of thing sways you, you should be ashamed.
But of course, candidates and campaigns assume you will be swayed. The practice has become so widespread because politicians seem to have found it works. Maybe they’re right, but if so, I’m more inclined to think it’s because these methods turn thousands of reasonable voters against the ugliness of politics altogether and encourage the emotional cynicism of others to win at the polls.
You can be better than that. The Daily Herald and other newspapers are in the process of covering the elections with stories that strive to impartially and thoroughly describe candidates’ backgrounds and issues. Candidate profiles we publish online let you see their answers to questions firsthand. Our editorial endorsements, while clearly presenting opinions, offer thoughts that have been refined through weeks of examining candidates based on their individual merits rather than mere party affiliation or ideological agenda. Taken together, all these things can help you vote with confidence that the candidates represent the values that are important to you.
If, as people so often say, you truly despise political manipulation and are committed to voting for the candidate you think will do the best job, do yourself, your community, your legislative or congressional district and your state a favor. Throw the campaign mailers directly into the trash. Then, go to the polls and cast a ballot you can be proud of.