'Nays' defeat the 'Ayes'

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Nasty ads leave voters unsettled and agitated

By Hal Rhodes

“I never vote for anyone,” W. C. Fields supposedly once snorted. “I always vote against.”
Judging from comments I’ve been hearing lately, whole gobs of prospective voters are approaching their polling places this year with much the same mindset.
Another whole batch of prospective voters reportedly has no intention whatsoever of approaching their voting places this year.
It is a sad state of affairs for those who believe a government “of” and “by” the people depends upon a citizenry that embraces its civic duties and democratic responsibilities.
It’s not hard to understand why many voters are simultaneously disenchanted with and disengaged from the electoral process today.
Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court’s dominant conservative majority have eviscerated laws designed to reform the worst excesses of campaign finance practices in this country and candidates favored by wealthy individuals and powerful interests this year have raked in obscene sums of money to spend on their campaigns.
We now know that many of the innocent-sounding outfits like American Future Fund sponsoring those misleading TV attack ads are actually fronts for anonymous fat-cat donors, often right wing, corporations and others Republican-leaning groups.
The U.S. Chamber of  Commerce has virtually become an arm of the Republican National Committee, flooding our screens with negative ads evoking the most sinister films noir.
Stuff like this cannot possibly elevate political discourse or render voters anything but unsettled and agitated.
The campaigns are awash in them. Raise your right hand if you recall seeing any TV spots featuring candidates acknowledging their opponents’ decency.
Nary a hand in sight.
Consider that race between incumbent Democrat Harry Teague and his Republican predecessor Steve Pearce in the 2nd Congressional District where the ads are so vitriolic as to make flesh crawl.
These guys have the same hometown, Hobbs. They were friends. Their families socialized. If respect and civility ever had a chance, this surely would have been the race.
But Pearce is keen on attack ads. Witness his slash-and-burn assaults on then-Congresswoman Heather Wilson two years ago in their battle for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. He won, of course, only to lose the general election.
Now he wants his old House seat back and he’s after Teague with a vengeance.   
Connoisseurs of the dark “arts” of negative TV spots may someday rank a late-in-the campaign Pearce ad against Teague as this year’s “best of the worst.”
In this ad we see grey and ochre images of Teague while a disgruntled former employee excoriates the congressman because companies he operated before going to Congress stopped offering employee health insurance at Christmas time, 2009.
It isn’t mentioned that Teague no longer runs those companies or that skyrocketing insurance costs have forced similar decisions by businesses throughout America simply to stay afloat and keep workers employed.
Said Teague, “These are hard times and hard decisions were made to save the jobs of 200 people.”
Meanwhile, groups independent of Teague were hitting Pearce with blistering spots resurrecting charges that he was “one of the most corrupt” of congressmen during his House tenure.
It is true that twice in recent years the Washington-based watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, pegged Pearce as “one of the most corrupt congressmen.”  
So come 2010, that theme is picked up in another group’s attack ad skewering Pearce for, among other things, selling his company, Lea Fishing Tool, at twice its reported value to a big energy outfit that lobbied a congressional task force on which he served.
It made news at the time.  Now it’s news again, borne on wings of attack ads.
Small wonder folks vote against rather than for.

Hal Rhodes
NM News Services