Politics, False Advertising, and Double Standards

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One of the advantages of living in a state where one of the presidential candidates had a sizeable lead and there were no competitive congressional races was that there existed a dearth of political advertisements on television. Other than a few political races in nearby North Carolina bleeding through on our TV screens, we South Carolina Upstaters could concentrate on more important things — like college football.

However, residents of other states were not so lucky and it was there that television viewers and radio listeners caught the full brunt of the political classes’ jihad against truth and decency. The depths of darkness to which these advertisements plunged confirmed my suspicions that politicians truly despise the people they purport to represent.

We are familiar with a few of those advertisements. There was the infamous NAACP advertisement that proclaimed George W. Bush’s complicity with the murder of James Byrd of Texas, who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck. Only a politician like Al Gore could insist those who punished the perpetrators of that outrage with the death penalty actually supported the actions of those drunken criminals. That millions of people supported and were moved by that advertisement to vote against Bush confirms that perhaps some of the contempt politicians have for the masses is well deserved.

The advertisements I saw were standard fare. The Republican congressman was against minimum wage, which meant he wanted poor people to starve. The Republican was locked in a dispute with a local governing body over the amount of taxes he owed for some property, which meant that he was a piker. Of course, the advertisements for the Republican told us that the Democrat hopeful was a liberal trial lawyer. (Heck, that was ALL I needed to know about that guy.)

However, as we look at political advertising across the country during this last silly season, we must conclude that we saw nothing that conformed to the standards to which politicians insist that private business adhere. How far would Coca-Cola go with an advertisement that said Pepsi was trying to poison its customers, and that even allowing that cola to touch one’s lips would mean sure and sudden death? No doubt, Congress would hold hearings, the Federal Trade Commission would spring into action, and Janet Reno would dispatch her storm troopers to Coke’s Atlanta headquarters.

While all of us have been conditioned to take advertising with a grain of salt, we are also aware that private businesses at least try to be subtle in their deceptions. I know that if I use a certain brand of toothpaste, I won’t be instantly attractive to the world’s best-looking females, but no doubt it won’t hurt, either. We give advertisers some leeway, as we may be attracted to their products and there are times when the ads are truly creative and sometimes more fun to watch than the television shows they interrupt.

Compare such advertisements to the typical political ad. Estee Lauder uses Elizabeth Hurley; Congressman X uses a horrid black and white picture of his opponent. Estee Lauder shows us a scene of beauty and happiness; Congressman X shows us the death and destruction that will surely occur if the voters are fooled into picking Candidate Y.

The nature of businesses, which the political classes tell us is evil and predatory, is to present positive images of their products. Business owners want us to be in a good mood when we buy their things. Furthermore, they wish for us to be even happier after we have made the purchase and have used those goods. In short, they appeal to our good senses and nature.

Politicians, on the other hand, want us to be angry. They want us to believe that their opponents are axe murderers who want old ladies thrown into the streets and children to starve to death. Politicians try to convince us that all of our failures are due to the fact that the wrong people are in office. If this is not false advertisement on a criminal scale, then nothing can fit that bill.

What is most interesting is that those folks — like socialist John Kenneth Galbraith, for example — have made careers telling us that private enterprise is evil and that we should turn all of our belongings over to the political classes that run the state. Galbraith and his allies have constantly told us that private advertising creates demand for products that we really don’t want or need and that if the state ran our lives, politicians and bureaucrats would provide those things that are truly necessary for the Good Society.

Yet, each election cycle demonstrates beyond question that the opposite is true. Politicians are the real practitioners of false advertising. Thus, if the political classes insist on ruling the airwaves, outdoor advertising, and newspaper and magazine pages, then perhaps they need to investigate themselves. Better yet, they should admit their own massive failings and just leave the rest of us alone.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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