Award-winning Journalist Penny Fletcher, Author, Editor & Blogger

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Facts First: Fight Later

Posted on October 23, 2018 at 1:50 PM

      I was 15 when John F. Kennedy was elected President and too young to vote, but I remember his speeches and how politics were handled on our huge box of a television with a 19-inch screen in the middle. Back then, opponents spent more time talking about the country and what they could do for it, than how bad their opponent was.

    That was when competitive products couldn’t even say they were better than a competitor by name: they had to say, “Brand X.” There wasn’t any “Alka Seltzer is better than Pepto Bismol,” it had to be, “Alka Seltzer is better than “Brand X,” or, “Better than all the other leading brands.”

    Politics was probably as dirty then as it is now, but the general population didn’t see it. Oh, we got glimpses of ‘scandals’ like Marilyn Monroe’s famous sexy, “Happy Birthday Mr. President,” tribute in honor of Kennedy’s 45,th but that was about as “dirty” as things got in front of the general public back then. She leaned over him in a low-cut dress in front of the cameras and used a “Makin’ Woopie” tone and that was that.

    You see, there was something called “civility” in politics back then. Because 18-year olds couldn’t vote in election until the early 1970s, after a lot of students protested that they could be sent to Vietnam at 18 but not vote until 21, I cast my first vote in the election of 1971 at the age of 26. As badly as he is remembered, it was Richard Nixon who formally certified the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age, saying he agreed that if citizens could be drafted into military service (and potentially die), they should be allowed to vote. That came a little too late for the thousands killed and disabled in Vietnam, but at least it finally got done.

    Back then, newscasters made as big a deal out of the Watergate tapes as they do the Trump tax returns today. But top national news people like Walter Cronkite, John Cameron Swayze and Connie Chung stated the facts, so when the screen went blank, viewers were left to figure out how they felt about what had been said; they weren’t spoon-fed ideas or told what they should or shouldn’t believe.

    Last night I watched television for about an hour before going to bed to read. During that time, I saw four political ads. Being a journalist who has covered plenty of local elections and often deciphered ballot initiatives from meaningless legalese (where checking “yes” often means “no”;) into something anyone reading at an eighth-grade-level could understand, I like to see how the ads are worded and what images go with them.

    Last night, one ad had an empty suit floating through the air explaining that the owner (who is currently in a Senate position) was invisible; there have also been ads showing his senate seat and saying, “it’s empty even when he’s in it.”

    Then I saw an ad where police tape was thrown across a candidate’s face and stamped boldly with blood-red type: CORRUPT, even though sheriff’s associations from many counties are supporting him.

    The problem is that ads are paid statements, and as such, we can’t rely on them to be truthful. So as with lots of other things, the one with the most money in his or her bank account usually gets the most space.

    So, I suggest a Constitutional Amendment that says campaign ads should be limited to the candidate’s background, education, platform (which is what he stands for and wants to accomplish while in office), and any personal achievements. But so as not to promote any type of censorship, I am also suggesting that the second part of the amendment say “the candidates can say whatever they choose about their opponent in a debate, where each gets equal time to sling all the mud he or she wants to sling.” Why not make that like a combination Jerry Springer show and prize fight, so the public can sit in front of their televisions and get the facts first, and then root for their choice when it comes time for the fight?

    Now I know doing it this way would be impossible unless all 50 states put a Fair Campaign Ad Initiative on its ballot, which would take hundreds of thousands of both volunteers and signatures.

    But Article V of the US Constitution allows for the House and Senate to call a Constitutional Congress where they could potentially put such an idea forth and vote for it. It’s too late for the 2018 mid-terms, but we can make our representatives aware we won’t vote for them again unless they do such a thing before the next General Election rolls around.

    How hard would it be for each and every citizen tired of mud-slinging ads with no truth to them to write an email, send a letter, make a call and literally bombard representatives who seem to have forgotten this is a Republic where they are supposed to be working for their constituency; not a Democracy, where we handle things ourselves.

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Reply Carol Oschmann
10:06 AM on November 4, 2018 
There is an initiative for campaign reform where no candidate shall speak a word about his opponent, only about himself and what he/she can do for us. If they make remarks about their opponent, they would be immediately out of the race. Wouldn't that be refreshing? This is not against the constitution, it would be a campaign law.
Reply Carol Oschmann
9:55 AM on November 4, 2018 
I'm with you!