Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

EDITORIAL>>Using kids in attack ads

Politicians always feign shock and disbelief at the depths to which their opponents will sink in their television advertising, but Mike Beebe has a point when he complains that Asa Hutchinson’s latest ads exploit children for political advantage.
The commercials may not produce the advantage that Hutchinson intends. It must be vaguely unsettling to voters to see children spouting mean political slogans about a man they do not know and may never have heard of. Beebe said he had heard from two women who were so offended by the ads that they had changed their minds and were going to vote for him.
Beebe, the Democratic candidate for governor, asked Hutchinson to cancel the advertising campaign, knowing that Hutchinson would not. The Republican candidate said the advertisements were “lighthearted” and “fun” and that, besides, “In the spirit of politics, it’s a tough campaign.”

In a tough campaign, a candidate does what he has to do. Hutchinson is not the first candidate to exploit the appeal of children. Beebe himself often appears with children in his own ads, although he says he’s careful to make them positive. They are not attacking his opponent or even supporting Beebe.

In the Hutchinson ad, the children embrace the cynical view of politics and politicians. One begins, “When I grow up. . .” and then another continues “. . . I want to be a politician.” Other children in succession repeat a series of negative characteristics of politicians, all of which are labels Hutchinson has tried to pin on Beebe: “flip-flopper,” “backslapper,” “tell voters what they want to hear” and “raise taxes whenever I want.”

Then two children repeat in succession “. . . just like Mike Beebe.” Finally, another child laughs. Those are standard lines in political ads and stump speeches, and voters many years ago became urbane in the ways of advertising. They know that “plain citizens” who appear in commercials attacking the character of an opposing politician or endorsing a product are usually actors, often paid for their lines and their feigned sincerity, and not unsolicited critics or admirers.

Hutchinson or any other candidate does not have much credence when he calls an opponent a flip-flopper or a taxer-and-spender, but from the mouths of innocent children we are supposed to expect sincerity if not wisdom. Hutchinson explained that the children’s voices “broke through the clutter” of political advertising.

There is not much honesty in political advertising, and there is no honesty in these ads. What do even the most precocious children know of a state senator’s long record on tax and appropriation votes or the nuances of his stands on the multiple issues of a long campaign? Hutchinson could find few adults knowledgeable enough to make such judgments.

Does Hutchinson’s campaign cross the line in trading on the trust and naïveté of children? We have an idea, a faith, that viewers will decide that in a way that will not help Asa Hutchinson.