Santa Claus & Mr. Scrooge

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High hopes will reign for at least a few weeks

By Jay Miller

Isn’t it wonderful to have a brief season of good will that even extends into the political world this year? With a new administration headed into Santa Fe, a period of high hopes reigns at least for a few weeks.
Our major state newspaper feels hearts are so light that it can feature a front page article on our governor-elect’s pajamas. The inference is that readers have little reason to consider anything more important than Susana Martinez’s “sleepy pants” at this time of year.
At least New Mexicans can be content with the knowledge that our incoming governor is willing to abide inane questions and still be pleasant. There are many things we don’t know about our new governor but her sleeping attire is not one of them.
The latest state revenue projections indicate we may not be in for as big a shortfall as previously predicted, so Gov. Martinez may be able to keep her promise about balancing the budget without touching public schools, Medicaid or tax increases. Life isn’t so bad.
Of course on the federal level, it isn’t quite so rosy. A lame duck session sandwiched between a change in congressional power isn’t the recipe for much good will.
That might be the reason for an e-mail Christmas card I received recently from one of the nation’s dirtiest political campaign consultants. I met him at a “hurricane party” as we waited for a tropical storm to hit an island off the West Coast of Florida several years ago.
All the sane folks had departed the day before, leaving behind those of us who like to be where the action is. I probably learned as much that day as I ever have. Sharing a common bond brings people closer.
Negative television ads were a newer phenomenon in those days. I was fascinated with how attack ads could be so effective when everyone was saying they hate them.
The consultant’s answer was that most people say they dislike violence and yet the more mayhem in a movie or on the six o’clock news, the higher the ratings.
He said he didn’t particularly care why it worked. He wanted to take maximum advantage of the fact it does work.
At first glance, the Christmas e-mail he sent me made me think the guy may have turned over a new leaf. It began with a smiling picture of Old St. Nick, with the caption “Best Wishes for a Happy Holiday Season and a Positive New Year.”
Then I clicked on the arrow and saw it was a 30-second television spot, produced by the consultant.
A picture of Santa appeared on the screen and an ominous voice-over said, “Before you open your home to this man, look behind the myth and study the facts.
He is an illegal alien, who uses numerous aliases such as Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel and Father Christmas.”
The picture switches to the familiar scene of Santa in his sleigh, with a long whip strung out over the heads of his reindeer. And the voice says, “He exploits and abuses his own employees.”
Next we see Santa with a toy machine gun. The voice says, “He incites greed and violence among our children.”
Next, the clincher. “And who pays for this yearly give-away? You and your family. This Christmas, it’s time for Scrooge -- for a kinder, gentler America.”
Even Santa isn’t safe from negative campaigning. If people saw that ad enough times, some of them would start believing at least parts of it and vote against Santa, even though the alternative is even worse.
That’s the thing about negative campaigning. When you hear it enough times, you begin thinking negatively and end up voting against candidates instead of for other candidates.
As author James Thurber paraphrased Abe Lincoln, “You can fool too many people too much of the time.”

Jay Miller