Bullies come in all shapes and sizes.
They thrive when not questioned for their unacceptable behavior and treatment of others.
However, more often than not, they lack the courage to defend their actions when challenged. The hollow nature of their bullying evaporates like the exhaled breath of a runner, useless to anyone nearby.
Most people can point to one moment in life when they were bullied. Some are even subjected to it for years. Given a choice, most people would reject bullies. But not everyone is in a position to do so.
Whether we recognize it as bullying or not, anyone exposed to TV, social media, and sometimes newspapers, is bombarded with bullying in the form of select campaign advertisements.
Where else will you find candidates misrepresented so frequently because their comments or messaging are taken out of context? How often must we see scratched, contorted, Photoshopped, black-and-white images of a candidate to make them look sinister? Audio clips that are garbled to make a candidate sound deranged? Or what about those snippets of candidates yelling or barking during an unknown event where we have no idea what sparked their emotions? All we see is a screaming head. Shock value.
Campaign bully ads stoke fear, promote anger and suggest democracy’s demise under the guidance of the attacked candidate. By the time we have finished watching these ads, we have been so visually battered, it makes one wonder how any of the candidates targeted by these portrayals could serve with any decency.
And that, quite honestly, is perhaps the biggest problem in politics and society today – the absence of decency.
Campaign experts can defend their actions because they will have the statistics to back up their claims about how the advertisements work. But does that make it right?
Faceless political action committees are often at the foundation of the most drastic ads. That someone else placed the ads provides a convenient cover for the candidates they are promoting. The ugly mess is somebody else’s casserole, so the benefiting candidate gets a pass? What we hear from candidates is that they are not responsible for those ads. Sometime it’s even in the small print at the end of the ad, which nobody reads. It’s a crafty niche that shields them from responsibility. What we need is for them and their parties to denounce and take action to end this process.
Tasteless messaging in the name of winning is a right protected by freedom of speech, but that does not make it OK, certainly not for a candidate who should be concerned about how it sows discontent within society.
Campaign reform has many levels that need addressing, but this negative messaging should be a top concern for voters and candidates because of its ill effect on people. It does nothing to promote discussion of real issues.
This year’s governor race and several congressional races in Minnesota are front and center with many of these ads and we still have a few weeks of punches to endure.
It is embarrassing in 2022 that certain state constitutional offices and federal races will feature this option as a path to secure votes. These positions should set an example of decency, highlighting issue-based messaging with a goal to improve society. Campaigns should provide a glimpse of what we can expect from our leaders once elected. A good place to start is campaign reform.
The only way to stop a bully is to challenge their actions.
Letting candidates skirt the issue by not saying anything is a weak defense. We need them to be the leaders we want in office, starting with meaningful reform. Please, make it stop. In the name of decency, disarm this bully once and for all.
Keith Anderson is director of news for APG of East Central Minnesota