Attacking the attack ad

Maybe it’s election fatigue, but people seem to be more and more turned off by attack ads and negative campaigning. As usual, the attack ads started before this election was called. Fortunately, they seem to have been toned down a bit once the public reaction was measured. The sad thing is attack ads work. So what does that say about us, the voters?  We state that we don’t like attack ads, but somehow we let these ads sway us. As a rule Canadians are, or are at least, perceived by the world as being polite. Remember “Own the Podium” at the 2010 Winter Olympics?  We were even concerned about that bold slogan not being congruent with politeness. When someone is slandered and treated in an impolite manner, we take offense and rightly so. Are attack ads slander?  Supposedly any communication that lowers the esteem of the subject in ordinary minds of the public is considered slander or in other words, defamation of character. So why is it allowed in politics?  In part we believe anyone in or running for public office is fair game for public criticism. There are loopholes in the slander laws that are used, such as giving opinions instead of stating facts, and we are also allowed to make fair comments on the matter of public interest. Basically, to be slandered so that you can take it to court, there must be a false statement that causes harm or hardship to an individual. Unfortunately we have gotten so used to dirty politics, that if a politician sues for slander, we consider the politician a wimp. Back when Obama was running for president, the Democrats were at wits end on how to attack Sarah Palin without causing a backlash. The ground rules for attacking men were well established. Fortunately for the Democrats, Tina Fey came along, and the Democrats’ problem was solved for them with a bit of humour. We don’t see much in the way of attack ads for the products we buy. Most companies don’t mention their competition, although some car companies and cellphone carriers do this. But they don’t stoop to the low levels of politicians by mentioning how many recalls a certain company had. The cell companies might claim to have the best coverage, fewest dropped calls and fastest networks, and they will even sue each other for false claims, but they don’t openly attack each other’s credibility. Unfortunately, political attack ads are only part of the problem. If you ever listen in to a session of Parliament or the Legislature, the booing, foot stomping and open contempt often shown is embarrassing. Are these, the leaders of our nation, setting good examples and acting as role models for our kids? In schools, work and in social media we sometimes have serious problems with harassment, intimidation and bullying. Looking at the School District 68 policy on bullying, would what goes on in politics, and especially attack ads, be considered harassment and bullying? The politicians have developed a politically correct form for their aggression. They have drawn many lines that their lambasting of each other can’t cross. Calling each other liars is out, and sexual, religious, cultural and ethnic topics are strictly off limits. It seems there is an unwritten rule book for dirty politics. Another aspect Canadians should be concerned about is the lack of free voting that is allowed after people are elected. Should the passing of laws affecting all of us be a team sport with a gang mentality?  It would be nice for us to vote for someone that thinks for themselves and acts for us. Instead, most politicians have to vote along party lines, whether or not they agree. Even with its flaws, Canada has one of the world’s best political systems and a very exciting one. Elections can come anytime and there are more than two political parties. The parties come and go and there’s usually good copy produced for newspapers and the evening news during most weeks. It’s too bad that our politicians can’t act a bit more polite to each other and that so many of us feel like we’re voting for the lesser of evils. In reality, the public don’t often treat politicians with courtesy and respect either, so it’s not that surprising some politicians behave the way they do.

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