The Truth in (Anything
But Political) Advertising Law
by Mad Dog
Face it, if you and I screwed up or lied that much at work
we’d be out of a job so fast it would make our foreclosure notices
||With each election,
presidential candidates become more like toilet paper—packaged,
branded, promoted, and advertised with big boasts about how well
they’ll clean things up without shredding or irritating. But there’s
one big difference. If you run ads saying your detergent cleans better
than the competitor, you have to prove it. If you say the herbs you grow
in the back yard cure cancer, hemorrhoids, bad breath, and melamine
poisoning, you have to prove it. If you claim your airline is always on
time you have to wait until everyone stops laughing, then prove it. If
you don’t prove these things you can be fined, thrown into jail, and
forced to stop running the ads. So how come the same Truth in
Advertising laws don’t apply to politicians?
Good question. Politicians are like
weather forecasters—they can say anything they like without worrying
if it’s right, wrong, or is grounded in Bizarro World. Weather
forecasters can be wrong 365 days a year and still keep their jobs.
Politicians can make up wild accusations based on hearsay,
semi-quasi-partial-almost-truths, and non sequiturs that came to them in
a fever dream, and still get people to vote for them. And sometimes even
become a world leader with a free house, private jet, more vacation time
than the French, and once they retire, a library named after them that
no one will visit because you can’t check out Harry Potter books. Face
it, if you and I screwed up or lied that much at work we’d be out of a
job so fast it would make our foreclosure notices spin.
If the people of the United States wanted a mime to be
president we’d elect Blue Man Group and move the White House to Las
Vegas where we could paint it and call it the House of Blues.
Meanwhile, a candidate can say anything he or she wants with
impunity thanks to the First Amendment as long as it’s not libelous,
slanderous, or includes their actual political position. They can claim
their opponent eats Ozzy Osborne’s leftover bat heads, sacrifices
turbans under Ramadan’s full moon, and has right toes on his left
foot, and there’s not a thing anyone can do once the ad runs other
than create a counter ad that fights back by showing the past week’s
chicken dinner menus on the fundraising circuit, receipts proving
they’ve never stayed in a Ramadan Inn, and a photograph of the
candidate’s left foot—or someone’s left foot, anyway—and hope no
one’s ever heard of Photoshop. But like asking a jury to disregard the
evidence they just heard, at that point it’s a little late. It’s
like closing the barn door after the horse has stolen your vote.
So why is it that politicians are
exempt from the Truth in Advertising laws? It might be because they pass
the laws and by nature aren’t prone to enacting legislation that will
adversely affect them. You know, as in end their career in Congress and
start a new one in the Leavenworth prep kitchen. It could also be that
they know if they had to prove the truth of everything they said
they’d have nothing to say, and if the people of the United States
wanted a mime to be president we’d elect Blue Man Group and move the
White House to Las Vegas where we could paint it and call it the House
least they should be required to put warning labels on their ads:
“Contents may include stretches of the imagination, fanciful tales,
and outright lies.”
It shouldn’t be this way. Politicians
should be required to back up anything they say. And “because,
that’s why” wouldn’t be an acceptable answer. Maybe we should
follow the lead of Mike Sodrel and Eric Schansberg, who are running for
a congressional seat in Indiana and agreed to be hooked up to lie
detectors during a debate with the incumbent on October 21. It
won’t happen, but that’s too bad. Wouldn’t it be fun to see the
needles go wild every time John McCain uses the phrase “my friends”
to people he doesn’t know and wouldn’t spend three minutes with if
he weren’t running for office? Better yet, maybe we should hook them
up Abu Ghraib style so if they answer a question falsely they get
shocked. For all the years politicians have been using behavior
modification techniques on the voters so we’d elect them it’s about
time we had a chance to turn the tables.
If we can’t do that, and they
can’t tell the truth, then at least they should be required to put
warning labels on their ads: “Contents may include stretches of the
imagination, fanciful tales, and outright lies.” After all, cigarette
manufacturers have been required to put warnings in their ads for years.
Prescription drug ads in magazines have two pages of disclaimers and
warnings for every page of actual ad, and their TV commercials contain
30 seconds of the scariest voiceover this side of Darth Vader for each
image of flowers, butterflies, and rainbows that instantly make you
think of shingles. Even car ads jam 40-seconds worth of legal
disclaimers into the last three seconds of a radio commercial. Yet all
we get with political ads is the line, “I’m [fill in
candidate’s name] and I approved this ad,” which they take to be
a vow of responsibility and we see as a confession that they know their
nose should be longer than Pinocchio’s after he was caught putting
lipstick on Porky Pig.
won’t happen, so we’ll still have to believe them when they say
they’re telling the truth. Great. That and $1.75 will buy you a ride
on the bus. Or Iceland. If you don’t have the $1.75, you can use its
equivalent in stock. You know, like a few dozen shares of GM. And
unfortunately, thanks to politicians, that’s the truth.
©2008 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
Read them, but skip the political lies. Uh, ads.