It's over.The election is finally over. Seems like it's
been going on for years, doesn't it?
once said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and
Now we can
state clearly:everybody lies.Only in politics, it's called
A long time
ago I took a college-level course on statistics.I did this not because I was fascinated about
how to manipulate information to serve an end, but because it was a requirement
for admission to an MBA program I planned to apply to, back when I was working
for an investment banking firm.Let me
be perfectly clear:in all the years I
worked in business, I used statistics exactly once, when I proudly charted not
the increase in membership applications at a nonprofit museum where I worked,
but rather the rate of increase. In
other words, people were applying for membership faster.It made a pretty graph.
endured months of political commercials, from both national and local
candidates, on an hourly basis at all times of day.After a while you can tune them out mentally,
or hit your "Mute" button and ignore them.You've seen them all before, anyway—dozens of
times.But what is curious about these
back to back ads is that they are saying diametrically opposed things—and they
can't both be right.
statements like, "Candidate X voted 100% of the time to support the Save
the Aardvarks Bill."Correct,
because the bill came up only once (and was roundly trounced by the opposition
party, as Candidate X knew it would be) when s/he voted for it. Who does this
statement influence?The aardvark lovers
already know the voting record for every candidate on their favorite issue;
people who wouldn't know an aardvark if it bit them really don't care. But the
general impression the statement gives looks favorable for the candidate,
like this aren't lies, exactly; they are manipulations of the truth. The
creators (diligent campaign hacks, er, experts) choose their words with great
care, making sure that nothing is exactly untrue (in the legal sense) but that
whatever they say puts their candidate in the best possible light for the
stupid do the wordsmiths think we voters are?When you see conflicting commercials one
after the other, you know they can't both be right.It has been said that the vast majority of
voters know who they're going to vote for from the beginning, and they seldom
change their minds in the course of a race.Voters have even been known to vote for incarcerated candidates, because
he belongs to the right party and he's been good to them, or so they think (if
wasn't their money he embezzled, right?). Party loyalty runs deep—and voting a
straight party ticket avoids all that decision-making stuff.
target for ad-crafters is the Undecideds, who can't seem to make up their mind
until they hold the ballot in their hand on Election Day.Do they flip a coin?Do they vote because they hated Candidate Y's
pink necktie, or Candidate Z's clunky earrings, in the last ad they saw?
Conversely, do they reject a candidate because they hate his or her gravelly or
squeaky voice? The candidate may be a brilliant person, with a mind like a
steel trap and honest to the core, but can his or her election hinge on vocal
chords or wardrobe choice?
campaign staffers still go after voters with words, rather than brute force or
cash offerings (most of the time, anyway).They believe that by choosing the right, the perfect words, they can
convince us.The words matter, and I
suppose that we writers should be happy about that.