If politicians were pills.

The recent uproar over Mitt Romney’s TV spot in which he shows a clip of Barack Obama saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose” without mentioning that Obama was actually quoting John McCain got me fulminatingthinking.

I mean, in the real advertising world, you can’t do an ad that says the sun will rise in the East without an affidavit from an astronomer and even then you have to stick in the word “probably.” And if you’re doing an ad for a prescription drug, you then have to spend 30 seconds warning people about the perils of sunshine.

That, my friends, is the difference between “commercial speech” and “political speech.” The former has to be more or less true, the latter has to be no more than 30 seconds long. Section 315 of the Communications Act specifically requires broadcasters to carry all political advertisements regardless of their truthfulness:

… If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provisions of this section.

Why did Congress make political advertising a truth-free zone? Something to do with not wanting government to be deciding what is and isn’t true in a candidate’s statements. The government can decide if you’re telling the truth about a nail fungus treatment, but can’t prevent you from lying about issues affecting the wellbeing and future of our country.

But we can dream, can’t we? Let’s imagine candidates were subject to the same advertising rules as prescription drugs. Why not? They all promise relief from life’s miseries. Rick Perry could be Viagra. Mitt Romney? Lipitor. Obama: Xanax.

So many political ads are churned out in the course of a campaign, it would be tough to run them all through the same heavy fact-check and legal gantlet real pharma ads go through. Let’s just focus on the fair-balance copy every spot would have to include:

(Name of candidate) is not for everyone.

Side effects include nausea, itchiness, regret and outrage.

Some people experience homicidal impulses, hysterical laughter or a strong desire to shower when exposed to (name of candidate) for long periods.

If you experience any of these symptoms, ask yourself whether (name of candidate) is right for you.


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