There is one thing that distinguishes campaign ads in Illinois. The Land of Lincoln’s political machine is so entrenched that ads backing anyone but members of the Democratic meat grinder often seem pointless. That doesn’t mean other candidates can’t win. Sometimes they can. Too often they can’t.
Despite the accusations, negativity, and outright hate vented from dubious sources and funding, there are truths campaign ads in Illinois reveal about political candidates everywhere. They also reveal truths about us.
Campaign ads in Illinois: more of the same dreck.
You know the formula. Photo ops with schools kids, preferably recognizably minority kids we assume come from disadvantaged homes. This shows us political candidates are concerned about a future they will quickly discover they can do nothing about if they are lucky enough to win.
Pictures of a candidate’s well-scrubbed, happy family are important. So are shots of seniors and veterans. How anyone can stomach watching long enough to get to the end of a campaign ad is hard to image, but someone must pay attention because the fear of this dreck terrifies Democrats. Party members would do anything to toss out the Citizens United ruling and have introduced a bill helping voters with less money hand over more to political campaigns (see: Helping the Poor: the Political Issue That Will Hurt You).
What are they so worried about? Are Democratic candidates concerned that their supporters are dumber than voters who back Republicans? It shouldn’t make any difference. As far as campaign ads are concerned, all candidates are the same and they all seek to prove the same things. For example:
No politician is indebted to anyone.
Individualism counts even if it doesn’t exist. Every candidate is his own man or her own woman. A Democrat that answers to big labor? Not a chance. A Republican backed by business interests? Unthinkable.
It is especially important for campaign ads in Illinois to make it clear that candidates aren’t owned because anyone running under the Democratic moniker has been purchased lock, stock, and barrel and we all know it. That’s a good thing for Illinois GOP candidate ads seeking to drum up some support from voters who aren’t depending on Pat Quinn’s nanny state paternalism, something the governor is promising by the boatload.
One question: if all candidates are so defiantly independent, why do they have so many embarrassingly obvious political favors to repay when they win office?
Businessmen and women don’t play politics.
Spots tell Americans we need a businessperson to clean up budget and spending problems. Does it help voters to have a candidate who claims to be removed from the political game, especially when that business wizard is used to having things go his or her own way? Illinois gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner is pushing his business background in Illinois campaign ads. Do you think Mike Madigan, John Cullerton, and their ilk are concerned about his business skills?
Campaign issues and political problems are simple, stupid.
All we need are common sense solutions. It’s usually the other party that complicates things, except their campaign ads talk about common sense solutions, too. Anyone paying attention to any level of government knows that there is no such thing as a common sense solution. The problems without solutions, like Illinois pension debt, are the ones that make money and draw the most attention.
Campaign ads turn ordinary politicians into super heroes.
If you are a Republican, your Illinois campaign ads had better show you are a super hero. You will need to battle unions, government workers, abusive pensions, and hordes of voters with their wallets empty and their hands out. Even Pat Quinn has on his super hero outfit, though without the federal money pouring into Illinois that super hero would be vanquished pretty quickly.
All political candidates ooze honesty, except in Illinois.
This one does not apply to Illinois, though our political ads still talk about honesty and integrity. In truth, we only require our candidates to make one promise: I won’t go to prison (see: Illinois Resident Apologizes for His Corrupt State). That promise gets broken. It gets broken a lot.
So what do campaign ads in Illinois teach us?
The take home message is pretty much the same as ads everywhere: every political race has one honest, reliable candidate who answers to no one and has a simple answer for every problem. That candidate is the one whose campaign ad you are watching.