Views » November 17, 2012
Hangovers, Electoral and Otherwise
So what are we to make of this election?
Can’t the FTC regulate political ads the way they do ads for, say, diet pills? Yes, there are First Amendment issues, but if deceptive speech in ads for products is unprotected, why is outright, bald-faced lying in political ads protected?
Oy, I have such a hangover, and not only from the bottles of wine I drank as I bit my fingernails watching the election returns. It’s also from—what has it been now, an 18-month campaign? The United States must surely have the most protracted, expensive, oxygen-hogging campaign process in the world. And do you want to place bets on how soon the campaigning for 2016 will start?
Nonetheless, this has been an historic election and one that probably will be studied for years. So what are we to make of it?
First, there’s Citizens United. The decision remains a terrible one—but this election may indicate that it wasn’t as consequential as we thought. After all, even with the unprecedented and profligate spending of conservative SuperPACs, which by some estimates topped $700 million, and of 501(c)4s such as Crossroads GPS, what did the GOP get? They targeted Democrats Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Claire McCaskill and Tim Kaine with a bombardment of negative ads and lost. Here in Michigan, a Detroit billionaire named Matty Moroun and his campaign committee spent more than $33 million on a proposal to block the building of a bridge between Canada and Detroit, and lost as well. And, of course, it turns out that all the money in the world couldn’t sell Mitt Romney to America.
But maybe the real question is one that wasn’t raised in this election cycle: What happens when all this money goes to a scary right-wing candidate with some actual populist appeal?
One thing we did learn is that women still matter—you can’t win a national election without them. And they seem not to like to be told that some rapes are legitimate or that pregnancy resulting from rape is “God’s will,” as some cloddish Republicans asserted. According to exit polls, 55 percent of women went for Obama and 44 percent for Romney. Maybe Romney should have “gotten back to us” about things like equal pay for women, as he said he would. If the Republicans intend to win national elections they will need to rein in the wing of their party that supports fetal “personhood” over the rights of women.
We saw that support for gay marriage continues to grow, something unthinkable just 10 years ago. Remember how Karl Rove used homophobia as a wedge issue in 2004? We can now celebrate victories in Maine, Maryland and Washington, as well as Tammy Baldwin’s election to the Senate. Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage did not cost him the election. But as feminists know, such victories beget virulent backlashes, and this remains a long and difficult struggle.
It also seems that lying doesn’t always work, and lying—in so many ads, and by Romney and Ryan themselves—seems to have reached new heights. So here’s my fantasy: Can’t the FTC regulate political ads the way they do ads for, say, diet pills? Yes, there are First Amendment issues, but if deceptive speech in ads for products is unprotected, why is outright, bald-faced lying in political ads protected?
And wouldn’t it be nice if the media stopped hyping some of these elections as “too close to call,” making us all crazy, when for weeks the inimitable Nate Silver, of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, crunched the numbers and upped Obama’s odds of winning to around 90 percent just before the election? Obama’s victory is actually a major vindication for Silver, who always put the odds in Obama’s favor, despite being contradicted by various Gallup and Rasmussen polls and pilloried by screaming pundits.
Another thing to investigate now that it’s all over is how much Citizens United lined the coffers of TV stations and networks around the country. Since fat cats like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers spent millions for naught, what seems to have happened is a major transfer of wealth from them to media corporations. Hyping campaigns as horse races not only keeps pundits’ adrenaline going, it maximizes media profits. Given that, we remain doomed to suffer speculation about 2016, the eventual onslaught of deceptive political ads and the touting of unreliable polls. But at least we don’t have Romney and Ryan in the White House.
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Susan J. Douglas
Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work is Done (2010).