Susie MacNelly. Obtained from this site. (Click to enlarge.)
My friend Steve has a theory about politicians. Someday, he says, medical science will progress to the point where a desire to enter politics will be recognized as a mental illness.
As a one-time candidate myself, I've argued with Steve on this one. But I am beginning to think this may be the only explanation for the attack ads that are attacking all of us every night when we try to watch the news.
At this point, I would happily choose a block of commercials for Viagra, Cialis and Flomax over any more commercials concerning Kirk, Giannoulias, Quinn, Brady, Halvorson, Kinzinger, Dold, Seals.... I could go on, but my stomach has started churning.
We have early voting in Illinois -- people can cast their ballots today instead of on November 2 -- and I'd do it in a heartbeat if it would make the commercials and the robocalls stop.
But it won't.
The cartoon at the top of this page expresses my feelings about this election rather well.
To illustrate why, let's just look at one race, the race for Barack Obama's old seat in the U.S. Senate: Here, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is running against 10th District Congressman Mark Kirk.
Giannoulias was very proud of his family's ownership of Broadway Bank when he ran for office four years ago. That was before the Great Recession. Since then, the bank has collapsed and has been taken over by the government. The amount of the loss to the taxpayers varies from attack ad to attack ad. Giannoulias severed his connections with the bank at some point, but there seems to be some question about precisely when this occurred. In this campaign he's said one thing; in his prior campaign he said something else. And he may have told the IRS something different still. What is certain is that while a loan officer at Broadway Bank, Giannoulias had a hand in making large loans to mob figures. He has said he didn't know the 'extent' of the mobsters' dealings at the time. Really? I couldn't get a loan without the banker knowing how much silver there is in the fillings in my teeth. When the Great Recession hit, the Bright Star college pre-paid tuition program, administered by the State Treasurer's office, took a huge hit, just like most people's investments. The extent of these losses, too, are a matter of some dispute, depending on which attack ad is playing at the moment. (You wouldn't know it from the ads, but Giannoulias may be faulted -- may -- for not responding to the slide sooner by switching funds. It's not as if he took the money to Vegas and lost it at the craps table.)
The Republican candidate, Rep. Mark Kirk, is also an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve and had been pretty well respected for his first-hand knowledge of foreign events. Then someone looked at his résumé. Although his record was honorable in and of itself, apparently Kirk exaggerated his military accomplishments. The extent of the exaggerations are lost in the fog of attack ads and, to a lifelong civilian like myself, this might not seem like such a big deal. But it is a big deal to people who have served: Consider that a former Chief of Naval Operations committed suicide in 1996, allegedly because it was about to be revealed that he did not have the right to wear "Valor device enhancements... on his Navy Commendation Medal and Navy Achievement Medal" -- two tiny bronze "V's" on a chest full of fruit salad. Kirk had been a liberal Republican, that term not always having been an oxymoron, but, in this election, in order to secure his party's nomination, he had to move to the Right on several issues. Thus, this guy plays fast and loose with the facts and with his beliefs in order to advance his career.
The good news about the race for the U.S. Senate in Illinois? At least none of our candidates is a witch.
I think we have to strike back at the attack ads, lest we all wind up as crazy as the politicians.
I'm thinking of starting a fund to buy up airtime on all the local newscasts. We'd crowd out the attack ads with pictures of sunsets and mountain tops, waving wheat and soft, fluffy clouds, all set to a relaxing orchestral accompaniment. It might even calm me down enough to handle the latest sports news out of Halas Hall.