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Don’t go looking for the truth in political advertising

If you have children of an impressionable age, and you haven’t already taken this precaution, I’m advising that you immediately take your television outside and smash it with a sledgehammer before the next political ad is aired.

Children should not see this stuff. It’s toxic, it will arrest development and is guaranteed to corrupt all sense of civility. Adults shouldn’t see them either, but after years of exposure, we’re already damaged for life.

The basic formula in running for governor of California — and to establish yourself as a trustworthy leader — is to misrepresent who you are, to accuse your opponents of torturing toddlers and small pets, and to address voters as if they were no smarter than soft-boiled eggs.

Why do they insult us like this?

Because it often works, we’re told by political consultants.

Can I be frank?

Anybody stupid enough to believe anything they see in a political ad on TV — the positive messages are no more informative or less insulting than the negative ones — should be banned from any and all polling places for a minimum of 10 years.

Call me naïve. Call me a dreamer. Call me a fool. But I’m wondering if there will ever be a candidate for governor of this quake-rattled state who says the following:

I will not pander or insult.

I will not pull a clown act like crushing the car tax with a wrecking ball unless I know how to fill the gaping budget hole I create.

I will not abide the campaign tradition of avoiding specifics for fear that honesty may cost me votes.

Whether ahead in the polls or behind, I will avoid small-minded patter, maintain some sense of integrity and pride, and intelligently discuss issues that affect your lives.

All right, so maybe I am a fool if I’m looking for substance in the middle of silly season. Politics is about finding ways to avoid telling people what they need to hear.

But with the stakes so high this year—with 2.3 million people out of work and a $19-billion budget deficit — can’t we expect a little more?

We are in deep, deep trouble, and yet GOP candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are rattling on about which of them is more liberal and which one does or doesn’t support Arizona’s illegal immigration law.

These ads, filled with laughable distortions, are no worse than those in past campaigns. But because Whitman and Poizner are stupendously wealthy and are pouring money into their own campaigns, there are more of them.

“I abhor negative ads,” says Newport Beach toy designer Randall Gwin, one of four independent voters I’ve been checking in with this campaign season. “According to Poizner, if I vote for Whitman, I’m supporting socialist care for every illegal immigrant in a 5-million-mile radius. However, according to Whitman, if I vote for Poizner, I’m voting for an abortion loving, morally corrupted child eater.”

Hungry for substance, Gwin went to Jerry Brown’s website, but came away starved.

“I still know nothing about his financial plan for the state,” Gwin said of the Democrat, who has held back because he’s got his party’s nomination locked up. Or, perhaps, because he doesn’t have much to say about how he’d fix California.

After begging for support from labor so he can compete, can Brown be expected to ask any of the public employee unions to scale back pay and benefit packages that have helped create the budget deficit?

No word from Jerry on that.

Would he be willing to do what Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson did, and temporarily raise taxes while making unpopular budget cuts?

No word from Jerry on that. In a new ad that appeared on his campaign website Tuesday, Brown said enough already with the negative ads, but he offered nothing useful in their place. The Whitman and Poizner campaigns, naturally, immediately went negative on Brown.

As for Poizner’s financial plan, Gwin thinks the math is fuzzy.

“Explaining how a 10% cut in personal income tax is going to raise our state’s revenue 1.7% the first year and 4.77% the second year … well, it’s hard to believe. Number swapping and financial trickery are not what we need right now.”

Gwin said he’s leaning at the moment toward Whitman because she wants to grow jobs, reduce spending and reform education. But Gwin hasn’t heard what the specifics are, or how Whitman thinks she could push such an agenda through a Democrat-dominated Legislature.

“I wonder if I’m the only one on the right feeling horribly let down by all this.”

No, Randy. Maureen Hayes, an engineering company executive and another of my go-to independents, said the campaigns are aimed at arousing emotion rather than illuminating strategies.

“I’m probably going to vote for Whitman in June,” said Hayes, who isn’t impressed enough with the EBay billionaire that she’d rule out a vote for Brown in November. But “if we had a Democrat for governor right now,” Hayes said, “a tax increase would surely be the answer to our current budget deficit.”

Adam Serrano, a freelance sports journalist and aspiring teacher, is the youngest of my independent voters. At the tender age of 23, though, he already feels over-exposed to dumb political advertising.

“The ads have gotten so terrible that if this was my 17-year-old sister’s first election, I might be inclined to tell her to sit out” the primary “and wait for the general.”

Yeah, but will that be any better?

steve.lopez@latimes.com


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