Advertisement is the very nature of political campaigns. Campaign managers, staffers, and others try very literally to sell their candidate to the voters, in all the same ways (and often with the same depth) as breakfast cereal is sold to consumers. Advertising in any industry is a much simpler task for the producers of objectively valuable products. They need only appeal to their products’ qualities and explain why those products are of value to consumers. Peddlers of poor products, on the other hand, have a much harder time, as they must resort to other means to sell their product, all relying on the ignorance of the consumer to not know better.
Most politicians today are poor products. As a result, political ads typically try to say as little as possible with as much money as possible rather than vice versa. Most such advertisements are mind-numbing and unworthy of discussion. On occasion, however, an ad stands out for the way that it attempts to pawn off dangerous ideas masked in high-gloss, all-American political styling. Michelle Nunn’s latest ad campaign is just that.
Nunn, the Democratic candidate for Georgia’s open US Senate seat, has begun an Internet ad campaign that employs one of the oldest and most ignoble tactics in campaign strategy: appeal to the ignorance of the electorate on a particular issue, tap into their fear, and hope they show up in droves.
The tactic has taken various forms over the years: “The immigrants will steal your jobs unless you vote for us.” “The integration of minorities will hurt society unless you vote for us.” “The ‘Robber Barons’ will impoverish you unless you vote for us.” etc. In Georgia’s Senate race, Nunn has chosen money as her bugaboo of choice.
Nunn’s ad asks for support in her effort to “end unlimited special-interest money in elections” by signing her online petition. Naturally, Nunn and her campaign are entirely uninterested in the petition itself, and instead want the contact information that individuals provide when they “sign” the petition – chiefly, their e-mails, which are then used by the campaign as a virtually free advertising tool to reach out directly to voters. This is a common ploy used by all campaigns, even those of rational candidates, but let us call it what it is and set that aside.
Instead, focus here on the bait. Those who click through on the ad find warnings of a “flood of secret, unlimited special-interest money” that allegedly resulted from the four-year-old Citizens United v. FEC court case. Nunn then tells readers that allowing “big corporations and the super wealthy” to spend money in political campaigns is “harmful to democracy,” and vows to let the “special interests” know that “America is not for sale.”
Like most campaign advertisements, this one relies on commonly heard, yet seldom understood buzz words to incite a sense of dread in the reader, as well as a sense of urgency regarding the need to remedy the problem. Substance beyond such words is sorely lacking. But what Nunn and her campaign advisers hope to achieve by such an ad is to instill enough fear into the minds of Georgian voters to cause them to turn their backs on one of the principles that their state fought to protect in 1776: the right of free speech.
It is the right of every individual to speak his mind and to support the causes he finds worthy, whether verbally or through the contribution of his property to assist in the support of that cause. After all, it is his voice and his property – who but he has the right to decide how much of it he can lend to a cause that he supports?
In Nunn’s mind, the state has such a right. Of course, she cannot say it outright – voters would never accept such a suggestion if it were stated openly and objectively. Rather, she hides her argument behind the faceless specters of “special interests,” “corporations,” and the “super wealthy.” In reality, the entities Nunn enumerates in her ad are nothing but individuals or groups of individuals, all with the same rights – no more or less – than any other: the right to the property that they control, and the right to use it to promote the candidates and issues they support.
Such individuals and groups of them may support whatever candidate they wish, including her – but for her to admit that she also receives the support of “special interests” would require a level of honesty that her ad suggests she does not possess. What is, after all, a “special interest” besides an organization of individuals united in promoting a cause? The National Rifle Association is one special interest, certainly, but so is the AFL-CIO. As with lobbying, “special interest” carries with it no designation of moral status – simply a negative connotation that Nunn exploits to frighten voters into action. The same goes with her quintessentially Leftist opposition to businessmen and the wealthy – for every Charles Koch there is a Warren Buffet. So long as she and other Democrats keep voters unaware of this (that is, so long as they do not outline their argument in objective terms), they will not have to actually defend their position. They can rely on vague connotations alone to scare voters to their side.
Should Nunn be asked to explain her argument in objective terms – or, even better, should her eventual opponent do it on her behalf – the entire campaign strategy falls apart. It becomes clear that opposition to “special interest money” in politics is nothing but an opposition to the right of free speech itself, and that she instead supports a state in which an individual’s participation in the political process is a limited privilege granted only on the permission of the state.
All this is to say nothing of the flawed political science on which she relies when she argues that campaign contributions somehow undermine the political process. Money is, certainly, a necessity for a political campaign, but it is not a sufficient condition for winning – a candidate with a lot of money that cannot inspire voters will not attain higher office (see: Jon Huntsman’s 2012 presidential run). A man could spend $1,000,000 supporting the candidate of his choice, but on Election Day, he still only has one vote. Some studies have even found that the more an incumbent spends, the less likely that incumbent is to be re-elected (though this correlation is admittedly affected by other factors). As it turns out, when it comes to campaign contributions, it does not matter how much an incumbent has or how much he can solicit from a single campaign donor. What matters is how many individuals he can inspire to become campaign donors.
Flawed political science aside, Nunn’s fundamental error lies in her flawed ethics, and she is not alone in that regard. The entire Left today is poisoned by an ethics that does not recognize man’s right to use his property to further his own self-interest. To them, that is something damnable and dangerous, and so it is something to be regulated by the government. The greater the amount of property a man owns, the greater the need for government force to neutralize the threat and to ensure that any property that they “allow” men to amass (because their ethics does not permit the notion of true property ownership) is employed for the common good.
Hence why the Left has so vehemently opposed money in politics in recent years, especially after the Supreme Court has continually found banning or capping campaign contributions unconducive with the Constitution. It is not a love of republican governance or the integrity of our electoral system that drives them. Rather, they are moved by a fundamental hatred of money and, more fundamentally, what that money represents: the self-interested productivity that made it possible. It is that that the Left wants wholly removed from politics. In essence, Nunn’s ad tells Georgia voters that they are free to speak on behalf of whatever cause they wish, but they shouldn’t dare purchase a megaphone to do so without government approval.