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Thank heaven for the TV mute button

As the days tick down drearily toward the mid-term elections, the mute button is our friend. Every time a political commercial comes on television, millions of Americans are lunging for their remote controls to turn off the volume.

This is a perfectly reasonable response to a nauseating blizzard of snarky lies, breathless exaggerations and ludicrous promises that will never, ever be kept.

Only a slobbering halfwit would fall for any candidate who vows to wipe out the national deficit while cutting taxes. It can’t be done, although it sounds pretty good in a 15-second sound bite.

Clearly, most political ads aren’t aimed at free thinkers, or those with a grasp of simple 6th-grade math. The commercials are meant to seed anger, frustration and fear, not necessarily in that order.

We know the script: All Democrats are tax-happy, job-killing liberals. All Republicans are flaky, right-wing extremists.

Mute button, please.

Once in a while, however, if you’re not quick enough on the trigger, you’ll catch a fragment of a campaign commercial so bizarre that it’s tempting to tune in.

In one hotly contested South Florida congressional race, Democratic incumbent Ron Klein has accused Republican Allen West of being too chummy with the notorious Outlaws motorcycle gang. How can we not be entertained by the possibility of a future congressman in street leathers?

Still, I was dubious at first. Having reported on the Outlaws back in my newsroom days, I could not recall a political component to their clubhouse activities, which were somewhat raucous and drug-fueled.

One time, I had a jailhouse interview with an Outlaw member, an accused murderer whose nickname was “Stitch.” While he was eager to chat about the handiness of a Bowie knife in certain barroom situations, Stitch offered no strong views on Jimmy Carter’s energy policies or the Mideast peace talks, both hot political topics of the time.

Apparently, though, a new generation of Outlaws has warmed to Allen West’s pro-gun, pro-Tea Party agenda. In an e-mail to a supporter, the candidate praised how gang members had protected him during an interview.

This possibly makes West the only person since Mick Jagger at Altamont who thought it was a swell idea to use bikers as a security force.

Another lapse in mute-button vigilance resulted last Thursday in my viewing a dumbfounding campaign commercial by a Broward state Senate hopeful, Lizbeth Benacquisto, who out of the blue announced that she’d been raped 23 years earlier.

A rigid opponent of abortion, Benacquisto said she was revealing this terrible incident in her past to debunk claims by her opponent that she was insensitive to the plight of women impregnated during incest or sexual assault.

It takes great courage for victims of such crimes to step forward, but the timing of Benacquisto’s revelation – two decades after the attack, and only five days before the election – raises too many dispiriting questions. In a cycle of acute skepticism, some constituents are bound to dismiss her ad as an exploitive, last-minute grab for votes.

At this point, the public should be fairly numb to all droning charges and countercharges. People just want the election to be over. From one side of the country to the other, this campaign has been so base – and so barren of honesty – that voters can be forgiven for their rock-bottom expectations.

The most intriguing thing to know about the political ads – which would almost make them worth watching – is who’s putting up the mountains of money. Good luck finding out.

Deep-pocket donors hide behind “political action committees” with patriotic-sounding names and the most venal, self-serving intentions. Thanks to the comedians at the U.S. Supreme Court, major corporations and unions are now free to finance attack ads with no spending limits, and a virtual guarantee of anonymity.

Bankrolled by free-spending special interests, elections can only get uglier and more exhausting. Civility will be scarce; the truth, even scarcer.

So in front of our televisions we sit, mulling over a stalled economy, a precipitous deficit and a war that’s costing more than $2 billion a week, even more in American blood. Our reward is to be swamped with gangrenous political ads that appeal chiefly to suckers, xenophobes and undermedicated paranoids.

Still, it’s impossible to go forward as citizens without believing there are some smart and decent people – Democrats, Republicans and independents – who are serious about working together to turn things around at home and in Washington.

You wouldn’t know it from watching their campaign commercials. In fact, you wouldn’t know jack.

Mute button, please.