Breaking news, everyone: Republicans are people, too! I don’t know if you were confused, but they’ve cleared it right up for us with their aptly named new YouTube and social media campaign, Republicans Are People Too. Over the course of a 90-second ad, in which there are no spoken words, no politicians and no sentences longer than eight words (“Republicans read The New York Times in public,” in case you were wondering), political strategist Vinny Manchillo manages to teach us a few lessons about Republicans that he thinks might change our political persuasion.
Included among the pearls of wisdom are factoids like: Republicans like both dogs and cats (phew), they shop at Trader Joe’s (awkward, since I’m more of a Whole Foods girl myself), and they even have feelings (as evidenced by the accompanying stock photo of a woman taking a selfie). On the campaign’s website, Manchillo explains that the point of this campaign is to reclaim the word “Republican” from the slur it has become and to encourage commentators to lay off bullying (his word, not mine) the sensitive Republicans.
Shockingly, I’m not here to deride the Republicans; the campaign has already been hijacked by an internet community all too eager to make light of #IAmARepublican. And while, yes, they made themselves an easy target for mockery, what I actually take issue with is Manchillo’s claim that this ad campaign was undertaken out of “love [of] political discourse.”
The thought that this ad campaign helps in any way to bolster political discourse is an impossibly offensive and demeaning assertion to make to the electorate. Some of the contentions in the ad (such as the New York Times dig) do align with traditionally liberal interests; but most really have no bearing on political behavior in the slightest. And even the ones that have a political connotation are so far removed from any kind of substantive policy recommendations as to be of no use in terms of aiding the political discourse.
Sadly, Manchillo isn’t alone: The Democrats are equally culpable of appealing to the lowest common denominator of political participation. This summer, people finally started rightfully mocking the DCCC’s absurd emails to supporters pleading for money. Every single day, my inbox is inundated with emails that can only be described as hysterical. Today alone (I kid you not), I got emails with subject lines from the moderate “I am worried, Victoria” and “this hurts” to “we’re going home” and “we’re IMPLORING you VICTORIA” (the intriguing capitalization choices are all theirs).
Every single one of these emails contains the same litany of sensationalist updates, accompanied by the same frenzied requests. John Boehner and his evil henchmen, the Koch Brothers, are moving ever closer to their goal to dismantle American democracy piece by piece. If I can give $3 in the next 10 seconds, I can do my civic duty to try to stop this horrible eventuality.
These emails, while heavy on the drama, are markedly light in substance. And I say that as someone who’s overwhelmingly inclined to agree with the line fed to me by the Democratic Party. But not a single email touches on the Democrats’ policy platform. None of them calmly puts forth a Republican measure and informs me, in a manner befitting of one of the leaders of this country, of their reasoning in disagreeing with it (let alone suggests a superior alternative). Nor are the Republicans, in their simplistic new advertisements, doing any better in terms of telling me real reasons to support their cause over the liberals’.
Maybe that’s because taking an actual stance in an ad or a mass email has become too risky: If you actually stand for something, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. It’s infinitely easier for Democrats to scream and shout about the impending disaster of your opponents’ plan. Meanwhile, the Republicans have opted to pander for votes by appealing to apolitical, unimportant principles shared by almost all Americans. The fact that they listen to Spotify is unimportant to me — and the fact that they think it might be shows how badly political strategists are misjudging what people like me want to hear.
Somehow what is at stake in elections got completely and utterly lost in the fray. No one wants to talk to the voters about where they actually stand on issues, because that’s too contentious and complicated a topic to boil down into a bumper-sticker size. But when we vote, I have to hope that we’re not playing the roles of our worst, least-perceptive selves. Instead, politicians should be asking of us that we be our best and most discerning members of society, ready to deliberate on questions other than the candidates’ favorite car dealer. But such critical involvement in the political process requires practice, work and encouragement; the longer voters are treated like we’re stupid, the more likely that will eventually come true.
Victoria Hall-Palerm is a senior in Berkeley College. Her columns run on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.