Last night, my 15-year old son, who thus far has shown little…ok, actually zero interest…in politics, retrieved the mail and brought it back to the house. As I stood next to the fridge, chugging Diet A&W Root Beer (with aged vanilla), he walked up and held out an over-sized postcard from Dr. Neal Dunn, candidate for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.
“Hey Dad, check this out,” my son said, pointing. “Isn’t this the most fake picture ever?”
I had a feeling I already knew what he was talking about because I’d seen the Dunn mailer earlier in the day, and the same thought had occurred to me, too.
My suspicions were confirmed as I stopped, mid-gulp, and gazed once again on Neal Dunn reading a picture book to a bunch of kids, one of which looks like he’s about to slap the book out of Dunn’s hand if only the old fart would bring it close enough.
I’m not exactly sure why this image doesn’t pass the smell test. Maybe it’s the fact that the kids in the photo all look old enough that they could just as easily sit in the same chair as Dunn, and read him selected excerpts from The Illiad. Or perhaps it’s just the idea of politicians in general, staging photo ops, using kids as props for their campaign propaganda. Maybe it’s a combination of both, I don’t know.
To me, the mailer just smacks of a lack of imagination. It’s exactly the same kind of political drivel we pump out every election cycle, and I believe voters are growing less and less tolerant of it, more and more wary of how political consultants (myself included) manipulate them through the news, through television and radio, through Facebook, and through mailers like these. And it might go a long way toward explaining Donald Trump‘s success and Jeb Bush‘s failure this last cycle.
Because, sure, Trump talks out of both sides of his mouth. But the very fact that his mouth is unfiltered is like a breath of fresh air to voters who are sick of being force-fed a steady diet of political feculence.
To be sure, Neal Dunn is bombarding voters in my district with just that – on television, radio and direct mail – so this mailer is just one more blip on the voting public’s busy radar screen. In fact, Dr. Dunn is currently in the middle of a nasty back-and-forth with Mary Thomas, so this particular piece is probably geared toward softening his image while his other campaign materials and media attempt to rip out Thomas’s spleen and stomp on it, in direct violation of the Hippocratic oath.
The more cynical political consultants I know may laugh this story off, and tell me I’m wrong, that the image is fine. They might say the image did its job because it catches the reader’s eye. After all, the average voter probably glanced at the mailer for all of three seconds before chucking it into the trash. The images would definitely be important in that case. And maybe the “average voter” isn’t politically sophisticated enough to realize Neal Dunn doesn’t really spend his time reading picture books to sixth graders.
But my apolitical teenage son realized it.
And if he realized it, then maybe we’re approaching the point where filling mailboxes with steaming loads of unimaginative political crap isn’t the best use of campaign dollars. Maybe we need to find more effective ways of reaching and persuading voters.
Then again, maybe voters don’t care. Maybe they expect politicians to posture and pose and pretend. After all, being creative requires real effort. Which reminds me. I’ve got to get back to cranking out more mindless political bilge myself.