By: Andrew Nelson
The other day I was discussing the upcoming election with a friend of mine. She raised a very interesting point in regards to the Senate race between Bob Kerrey and Deb Fischer. When I asked whom she was leaning towards she said Bob Kerrey, because her dad told her, “Deb Fischer is a land-grabbing crook.” Upon her bringing this up, I realized that I really don’t know much about either candidate myself other than that that Deb Fischer steals from the elderly and that Bob Kerrey is a carpet bagger. Are politics in America becoming a choice between the lesser of two evils? In the following few paragraphs, I’ll address why voters in this year’s senate race oppose a candidate rather than favor a candidate and attempt to the question above.
The campaign tactics used in the afore mentioned senate race are particularly interesting, because each candidate employs a very different style. Bob Kerrey is practically a political celebrity in the state of Nebraska because of his extensive political experience within our state. Because Kerrey’s name is already established in the minds of voters, this election is far more about Kerrey than about Fischer. Deb Fischer has little previous political experience and before the senate race heated up, was not well known by many Nebraskans. Kerrey’s campaign supporters have used this to what they thought would be their advantage. Essentially, they saw that they were dealing with a clean canvas in the minds of voters. They could potentially frame Fischer in the minds of voters as anything they wanted. This thinking prompted the famous ad that accused Deb Fischer of attempting to steal land.
Following the release of this commercial, Deb Fischer’s campaign fired back with the following video, bringing attention to the fact that Kerrey focuses more on attacks rather than ideas.
Ironically, Fischer’s campaign doesn’t propose many ideas in this ad either, but rather contributes to the hate culture that exists in American politics. Thankfully, television ads aren’t the only method by which to examine a race.
The Omaha World Herald’s website Omaha.com ran a story in early August concerning the campaign styles of the two candidates. In this article the writer interviewed many residents of Burwell, Nebraska shortly after Fischer walked in a parade through the small town. Of the voters interviewed, “all preferred to talk about why they either supported or opposed Kerrey, rather than talk about Fischer,” (Tysver). And when those that supported Fischer were asked what parts of her plan they appreciated, many admitted to not even knowing what Fischer’s plans were (Tysver). Clearly, at least early in the race, Kerrey’s widespread political reputation appeared to be his demise as the polls showed him as a distant second place. Now, as we grow much closer to Election Day, Fischer’s name is much better known. And because of the aggressive Kerrey ads, people either know Fischer as the candidate who steals land, or as the candidate who is not great, but better than Kerrey. Furthermore, this effective framing by the Kerrey campaign has yielded them a huge jump in the polls, and what appeared to be a landslide election has turned into an extremely close race.
Now, granted Kerrey’s campaign tactics are effective, are they really something that should be admired? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Because of campaigns like this one, it seems like politics are becoming more and more like a choice between the lesser of two evils rather than a choice for who we think will be a better leader for our government.
This “lesser of two evils” thinking can be attributed to the polarizing techniques used not only in this election, but in elections across the board. The two primarily used tactics in this case are framing and the creation of a common foe.
Framing is a strategy employed in this race by both campaigns. Kerrey’s campaign attempted to frame Fischer as a land grabber, and Fischer’s campaign tried to frame Kerrey as a carpet bagger. What is sometimes over looked though is that when framing is used so early in an election as it was, it simply creates more framing. In an online article on cognitivepolicyworks.com, George Lakoff puts it, “The only response [to framing] is to reframe,” (Lakoff). When considered in context this theory makes a lot of sense. Because if a candidate is framed, but fails to reframe, they are essentially fighting for their reputation the entire race and therefore fighting an uphill battle. This framing and reframing inevitably leads to further polarization in our political system.
The second tactic we see prominently displayed in this race is the creation of a common foe (my main intent for this blog post was not to examine the common foe again, but I kind of had to when talking about Kerrey vs. Fischer). Both sides of the campaign tried to paint their opponent as someone that couldn’t be trusted. They employed the age old tactic of creating a common foe intending not just to win over undecided voters, but to rally their own supporters and party members. After all voter turnout is extremely important in campaigns.
These two tactics when used in this campaign are inevitable leading to more polarization in American politics. These attacks also contribute to the feeling that undecided voters always have to pick between a lesser of two evils, which honestly is kind of depressing.
Is there a way to lessen this feeling? That question is extremely difficult to answer. I’d like to say yes, but for the voters whose only source of campaign information is advertisements, the answer is inevitably no. Those voters need to research on their own, seek multiple viewpoints, and try to decipher the ideas that are hidden behind aggressive attacks. So if you haven’t voted in this election yet, I strongly employ you, ignore the TV ads, do some research, and hopefully you’ll find a candidate you actually support.