Like professional golf, lost puppies and wintertime in Alaska, the political campaign season never really goes away. Instead, it simply hibernates for a few weeks each year, only to emerge more surly and stinky than the previous fall.
Those candidates who lost previous elections have licked their wounds and returned stronger and slicker than ever before. Those who've won have diligently been serving the public good by familiarizing themselves with proper legislative etiquette mostly by dining with lobbyists. A few newcomers to the process have come to the realization that politics just might be a fun way to blow the kids' dividend check.
No matter which category this year's candidates fall into, however, it's a good bet they'll all have one thing in common by the time this whole mess ends. They'll be covered, snout to tail, in mud.
Most campaigns kick off on a positive note. It starts on the radio, where the first ads you hear go something like, "Vote Bob Smith for garbage man, he coaches soccer, reads to blind kids and sweeps neighborhood streets with a push broom in his spare time. And he's not only a heckuva guy he's my dad."
These ads are great. They feature a friendly voice on the radio, no relevant information about a candidate's positions and zero negativity whatsoever. Listening to these ads, you'd be inclined to not only elect Bob garbage man, you might just try to get him as your new dad.
Things start to change, however, when a second candidate throws his or her hat into the ring. The tone starts to change only slightly at first, but enough to let you know the campaign has started for real.
The next ad you're likely to hear goes something like this: "Hi, I'm Jane Q. Citizen. I'm voting for John Doe because he's tough on crime and won't be late with curbside pick-up. John Doe will be a garbage man we can trust."
Now, this doesn't seem very dirty, but it plants a seed. Anyone listening won't be able to help but wonder: "Hmm, if this John Doe guy is tough on crime, that must mean Bob Smith isn't. I'll bet he's running an illegal craps game in his basement."
Now the rumors have started to fly, and as the election gets closer, my favorite of all election ads begin to air. These are where any campaign manager worth his salt earns his dough. I call them the "I won't be negative, but" ads, and they are usually the funniest thing you'll hear on the radio between now and November.
These go a little something like: "Hi, I'm Bob Smith. I'm running a clean campaign because I believe politics should be open and honest. I refuse to run negative ads. The garbage man's race is too important to play dirty politics. So I won't run a negative campaign. Not like John Doe, who's a first-class weasel."
Beautiful. Shows the candidate is upstanding, moral and steadfast in his desire not to stoop to the level of that slime ball Doe. At this point, Doe needs to act fast. If he's a true politician, you're likely to hear his response within the hour. It'll go like this: "Can Bob Smith be trusted? Let's look at the facts. Bob Smith steals aluminum from your recycling pile to finance the illegal casino he's running out of his rec room. I'm John Doe. I've run a clean campaign because I believe negativity has no part in politics. Neither does illegal gambling. With me as your garbage man, your recyclables will end up saving the environment not lining the pockets of the town's underworld crime figures."
At this point, the gloves are off. Unfortunately for those of us enjoying the show, the election will likely be just days away. Just time enough for each candidate to fire one last bit of dirt: "John Doe stinks and wants to empty trash in your living room. He's ugly and his kids sell drugs. His grandmother steals lunch money from kindergartners. Vote positive. Vote Smith."
Followed by: "Bob Smith wants you to believe John Doe is unfit for town garbage man. The truth is, Bob Smith is a liar, liar, whose pants are on fire. Bob Smith is the one who is unfit for garbage man. After all, he's a convicted murderer. Vote Doe save yourselves!"
After all that, you will no doubt have a hard time deciding which candidate deserves your vote. In fact, based on past election results, you'll be so conflicted that you'll be unable to make a choice at all, opting instead to take a nap.
If you end up dissatisfied with your trash pick-up service in the future, however, don't blame me. You won't be able to do that until after the next election, when I plan to run an open, honest campaign to replace whichever of this year's candidates wins the election. I've even got a campaign slogan picked out:
"It's time to take out the trash."
Matt Tunseth is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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