One Voter's Meat is the Same Voter's Poison

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET

Brian: "You're all different!"
Crowd, in unison: "Yes! We are all different!"
- Monty Python's Life of Brian

Are we all easily herded suckers? Every political ad thinks so. Each has this message: "good people think X, obviously. The anti-X crowd, obviously, is just bad/stupid/gay." We see these ads, check the party affiliation, and then agree wholeheartedly ("that's obvious!") or dismiss them as ignorant vitriol ("that's obvious!"), ignoring the plain lie in the original message.

We've surely learned that we can agree with both halves of a pro/con argument, depending on how they're stated:

We don't want rich people buying their way into office; we want successful businesspeople in government.
We don't want know-it-alls; we want people who know more than us.
We don't want Beltway insiders; we want legislators with experience.

So why does it still work?

Rove's $100-million, last-minute ammo will buy a lot of air time, amplifying the GOP half (all right, three-fifths) of the "you're a sucker" message. A lot of folks will feel queasier about their existing support for a candidate. A lot of others will feel more secure in their existing contempt for a candidate. Those disgusted with the process will stay home with even more righteous indignation. But underlying that expensive bolstering of previously held prejudices has to be at least a suspicion that we're being taken for a ride.

Try this exercise:
Next time you hear the ominous music, you see the calculatedly irritating grainy video, you are embraced by the seductive, syrupy voice (a voice actor I met called this the "pukey" voice), try to picture the person at that microphone. They're making noises like they're absolutely the most revolted they've ever been in their lives. They sound like their white-tight jaws are valiantly restraining them from retching as they say "Candidate Whoever refused to stand up to (pick one: big money/Mexicans/his or her party/Hillary). Tell Whoever we need better. Vote Theotherone."

Obviously, the voiceover lady isn't going to barely finish the last word, dive for the wastebasket, and hurl, but that's the impression we're left with. The emotion is not true, therefore it's a lie, therefore why would we believe anything it projects? Rove or whoever wishes people were that disgusted, pays an actor to pretend they are, and hopes genuine people will identify enough with this imaginary emotion that they'll adopt at least some of it for real.

Isn't that, like, crazy insulting? Doesn't it feel like the more polished these messages become, the dumber they assume we are? Wouldn't it suck if they were right?

I know we're supposed to end on some kind of upbeat prescription for improving the situation, but this wound goes very, very deep. We are ruled by people who -- even when legitimately elected -- got their crowns by virtue of hiring someone to pretend they were worth it. Short of a wholesale rejection of sleazy, manipulative campaign ads, this system's going to bleed us all dry, at least intellectually if not literally. On an upbeat note, the Borat movie is coming out in a couple weeks.