(Courtesy YouTube: TheAgendaProject)
(USA Today) -- The numbers are staggering. By Election Day, an estimated 2 million political advertisements will have aired on television during the current campaign, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. That total, which covers presidential and congressional races, doesn't even include ads that run on cable or the Internet.
If all the local ads were 30 second spots, it would take a viewer almost two years to sit through them, watching 24 hours a day. Even to watch for a day would be form of torture.
As anyone with a TV knows, particularly if you live in a battleground state, many of the ads are negative and highly partisan, and many take great liberties with the truth. Suffice it to say, this year's crop contributes to the erosion of the nation's political discourse and further undermines people's faith in government.
Look who's being divisive
Barack Obama rose to fame with a speech that celebrated inclusivity. As the first African-American president, he has had to contend with all manner of wild accusations - that he is Muslim or wasn't born in the USA, for example. You'd think he would be the last person to run ads that could reasonably be interpreted as portraying Mitt Romney as "the other" or even as casting aspersions on his Mormon faith. But that is precisely what the president has done. In a series of ads, Obama attacks Romney for the usual things, like having a Swiss bank account. Fair enough. But they end with the exclusionary kicker: "Mitt Romney: Not one of us." Talk about offensive and tone deaf.
False left turn on auto bailout
As Romney tries to win key Midwestern states, he has come to realize that his stridency on the auto rescue is a problem. In the second presidential debate, he stressed the rescue's similarities to his own recommendations back in 2008. But on the air in Ohio he has decided to attack - oddly enough, from Obama's left flank. His ad criticizes Obama for taking General Motors and Chrysler through a bankruptcy restructuring process (something that Romney himself insisted on four years ago). It also suggests that Chrysler's Jeep division is shipping jobs from Ohio to China. Just the opposite is true: Jeep plans to invest about $1.7 billion and add 1,100 U.S. employees.
Throw Momma over the cliff
For pure tastelessness, nothing tops an ad attacking Republicans in general, and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in particular, for his Medicare overhaul plan. In the ad, produced by a Democratic group called the Agenda Project, a man pushes an elderly woman in a wheelchair through a park. It begins by describing Medicare's successes. Midway through, however, it starts describing how Ryan would replace traditional Medicare with a plan that would give seniors vouchers to buy private insurance. The woman begins to suspect something and struggles to get free. Alas, her efforts are in vain and she (or, we hope, a dummy dressed like her) is pushed over a cliff.
Who are you calling rich?
The most laughably absurd ad comes from Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon. Her take-down of her opponent, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, is pretty much false or misleading from the get-go on issues ranging from Social Security to Medicare. But what makes it stand out is the claim that Murphy has been "raking in $1 million in salary." Murphy has in fact pulled in a little more than $1 million - over six years in Congress during which his annual salary was about $175,000. This line of attack is even more amusing as it comes from McMahon, who built a professional wrestling empire with her husband; their stock alone is worth about $400 million.
A not-so-cozy relationship
In the fake "gotcha" category, an ad from Joe Coors, a Republican candidate for Congress in Colorado, takes first prize. He describes how his opponent, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, worked the system by going to Washington as a congressman while his wife went as a lobbyist. Perlmutter, the ad says, voted for the 2009 stimulus and his wife collected $140,000 as lobbyist for Solyndra, a solar panel company that got $500 million from the measure. While the stimulus vote and solar-energy subsidies are certainly fair game, the self-enrichment angle is quite a stretch. Perlmutter and the wife in question, it turns out, were divorced in 2008 and were separated long before that.