I received a mailer from Kevin Raye today. This is just and proper, because I’m a registered Republican and there’s a Republican Party primary due in days.
This mailer exhibits a number of common paradoxes. It was paid for by “Raye for Congress” but does not suggest that I vote for Kevin Raye. Instead its message is “Vote no on Bruce Poliquin” or, alternatively “Don’t let Bruce Poliquin’s negative attacks reel you in.”
We are left to conclude that the invisible message must be “Vote for Kevin Raye. He’s not Bruce Poliquin.” Is this the best argument the Raye committee can muster on his behalf? Think of how few people share Kevin’s qualification of not-being-Bruce-Poliquin, I’m not, just to take one example.
As a matter of fact the only person I know in the Second District who is Bruce Poliquin is Bruce Poliquin. So the logic of this message seems to be that, with a single exception, everyone in the Second Congressional District ought to get my vote. The single exception being the man himself.
It gets odder as we examine the argument for voting no on Bruce Poliquin. There’s much indignation expressed about the Poliquin campaign’s negative attacks on some unnamed person who is probably Kevin Raye. The examples cited are puzzling.
First, Bruce is condemned for “using negative campaign tactics.” Second, there are hints at his alien origins, i.e., that he has invaded Maine’s Second District from some exotic place on the southern Maine oceanfront. Third, that claimed a “Tree Growth Tax Credit” to which he is not entitled. Finally, “his Gun Record is Murky.”
We can’t help but notice the list submitted as evidence of Bruce Poliquin’s negative campaigning starts with a sentence including phrases about his alleged “willingness to bend the truth,” which is “misleading,” “nasty,” and “just plain wrong.”
Looking through the document I could not find a single positive statement about Kevin Raye. It scarcely stops short of describing Bruce Poliquin of being nasty, brutish and short. All this in support of a warning not to “let Bruce Poliquin’s negative attack reel you in.”
The phrase about “reeling you in” is part of the mailer’s continual employment of fishing metaphors. The text is embedded in an illustration of a fly rod hooked onto an old boot. This is a little confusing in itself since we are left to wonder whether Bruce is the boot, the rod, or the person holding the rod. The illustration doesn’t fit comfortably with “He’s trawling for votes” since fly rods are not much used in trawling ventures.
What’s oddest about the illustrations is the photo of Bruce. It makes him look serious, intelligent and reflective, in contrast to the grinning and ingratiating self-portraits Kevin favors in the “literature” he distributes featuring himself.
The mailer illuminates two rules well-known to all political professionals: 1.) Negative political advertising works; and 2.) The most effective negative advertising is a successful attack on an opponent for engaging in negative political advertising.
There are plenty of surveys showing that the voters loathe, hate and despise negative political ads. I suspect most of the respondents of lying. The sample I just examined may not strike us as spritely and entertaining, but imagine what a bore it would be if not inspired by negativism.
I mean this seriously. American political campaign without regular doses of nasty would be intolerably dreary and demoralizing.
It’s hard to know if the voters surveyed are deliberately lying when the derive negative politics. Think of the difficulties confronted by those designing or answering an appropriate survey question. You don’t want to ask someone if he or she enjoys politicians bashing each other.
The person answering “yes” would fear being seen as a malicious cynic, no matter how heartily he enjoys the show in reality.
John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.