TV Ads: Use 'Em For Soap and Sneakers, Not Leaders

A few years ago at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, we took notes from grainy films of the first political ads on television, which aired in the 1952 presidential campaign.

Our favorite was Dwight Eisenhower's. "My Mamie gets after me about the high cost of living," Ike said. "That's one of the reasons it's time for a change."

Then came Adlai Stevenson, the two-time Democratic nominee for president. "Are you now out of debt? Do you have a comfortable backlog in the bank? Do you really think things can not get better?" Adlai asked. (He really did use the phrase "comfortable backlog.")

You could see why the erudite and clearly uncomfortable Stevenson lost twice to Eisenhower. You could also see in watching those early, honest efforts to woo voters what a nasty marriage television and politics would make.

So we've been pleased that Maryland's gubernatorial opponents seemed not to be dishing dirt on television this year. We'd heard talk of Gov. Parris Glendening and Ellen Sauerbrey, his Republican challenger, getting together for three or four debates. 'Hey, maybe Maryland will take the lead in returning to the civil days of Ike and Adlai,' we thought. 'Maybe we'll have some honest comparisons of competing visions about tax policies and proposals for the Chesapeake Bay. Then we'll vote.'

Boy, were we fooled.

Last we looked, the airwaves were filled with distortions and the candidates had agreed to share the debate stage just once.

We took notes again listening to the Sauerbrey ad quoting a Democratic official saying that Glendening's plan to extend Washington's metro train into Maryland "means higher taxes [pause] up to 50 cents a gallon."

It doesn't matter to Sauerbrey or her ad-crafters that no Democratic official said that. Nor does it matter that Glendening never came close to proposing a 50-cent gas tax hike.

Such a proposal, by the way, is the kind of thing favored by European Greens and people who tilt at windmills, not get elected to political office.

Nor are we impressed by those Glendening ads with Sauerbrey looking like a refugee from the Salem witch trials. Glendening himself takes license with the truth when he quotes the Washington Post as saying that Sauerbrey's budget plan "would leave a billion-dollar hole in the budget."

The Post didn't say that; a Sauerbrey critic did.

Our advice: Read carefully what candidates say. (Note the word read.) Think for yourselves. And keep your remote control close at hand for when TV ads invade your home.

Unless, of course, they're reruns of Ike and Adlai.

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VolumeVI Number 41
October 15-21, 1998
New Bay Times

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