As the days to the November elections decrease, political advertisements increase exponentially. By October, these political promotions will seem ubiquitous.
What concerns me primarily, however, is neither the volume of nor the costs to produce and air such advertisements (though I would certainly welcome lower spending limits on all campaigns, which have become excessive).
Rather, what concerns me is the content of the political advertisements that often border on propaganda and often promise what no one should be able to promise with a straight face.
Sadly, propaganda and outlandish promises seem inextricable from politics, not just today but historically.
Nevertheless, I would urge our nation’s current leaders and would-be leaders to choose a different course. Here are three suggestions.
First, leaders ought to promote their ideas and visions and leave aside negative campaigning.
The vast majority of political ads are propaganda (in the most pejorative and insidious sense). A person’s actions and decisions presented out of context, even if stated factually, do not approach truth or reality.
Thus, even when political ads accurately state what a person said or how a person voted, the ad – absent context or explanation of the rationale – is not helpful.
It would be more helpful to voters for leaders to share their platform and positions and leave aside the negative advertisements, which (I hope) most thoughtful, rational persons find unappealing and unhelpful.
Second, leaders ought to avoid dredging the depths of their opponent’s past for inconsistencies or changes on issues.
Part of what it means to “grow up” is to broaden our perspectives and to become more informed and thoughtful. Sometimes this involves changing one’s mind or perspective.
As the apostle Paul put it, “when I was a child I thought and reasoned like a child, but when I grew up I put childish things behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Consistency is a virtue, but it becomes a vice when used to demonize opponents who have ever changed their stance on an issue.
In other words, consistency (as applied in politics) is a vice because it means never evolving, never growing, never changing, which eliminates the possibility of ever admitting that one’s stance was incorrect.
This brings me to my final suggestion: Leaders should share hopes and dreams rather than promises.
Promises from those running for public office cannot help but be empty, even if voiced with every intention of carrying them out. Why?
The person running for office, even if the office is the presidency, can make very few unilateral decisions.
Instead, they have to work with and get the support of countless others to enact any and every promise they make.
This is why they ought to avoid statements such as, “If elected I promise to…” and make statements such as, “If elected it is my hope to…” The former reflects arrogance and ignorance while the latter reflects humility and understanding.
Moreover, promises of what a candidate will do leave everyone on the sideline, waiting to discover if they will actually do what they said.
Dreams of what a candidate hopes to do invite everyone to the field of play, working to discover ways to reach the dream.
In short, dreams have the power to inspire others to active engagement to achieve the dream; promises have the power to inspire others to passive waiting to assess the promise’s fulfillment or lack thereof.
We all remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (many can recite portions from memory). How many can remember promises made in the political ads seen last week? How many could recite them from memory?
This new course, if this election season is any indication, is unlikely. However, I am still idealistic enough to hold out hope that the process can change.
And so, I share these suggestions as hopes and dreams for a day when we all – politicians, pundits and populace – put childish ways behind us by ceasing to use (and believe) negative campaigning, by refusing to criticize others based on changed perspectives, and by declining to promise to do things that no one person could possibly accomplish alone.