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Voters must do better researching
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The 2010 election season is officially over.

I won't say "thank God" like a host of others who grow sick of the non-stop barrage of political advertising. We should all celebrate our political process because it allows us to decide who should lead us. That is an awesome American experience and it's one of the things that makes our country as grand as it is.

But I must say something should change. The system of selecting candidates is certainly far from perfect. The problem is that most people are viewing politics as a spectator sport when it is not.

Most voters are already turned off from the system. They are cynical about any candidate being able to change what's messed up in our state and nation (and there are monumental problems in both). Making matters worse is the fact that a slew of political machines subject them to months of self-serving advertising that seeks to bash in the brains of the opponent. Those ads are not only expensive, but they say little about what a candidate actually wants to accomplish if elected.

Ultimately, the voters share in the blame. Political consultants tell us that the reason politicians run negative advertising is because it works. In a recent article I wrote on negative political advertising, California State Stanislaus professor Larry Giventer was quoted as saying: "Everybody deplores negative, so-called attack ads, but they absolutely work. People often vote in opposition to something that's detracting about a candidate rather than an affirmation to a particular policy or characteristic. This is a long tradition in this country."

True, it goes back a long way. In 1884 Grover Cleveland was hounded in political satire for his illegitimate child in a popular Republican slogan which chanted, "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa? Off to the White House, ha, ha, ha!"

The fact that negative advertising works irks me. People have become far too complacent in doing the vital research on candidates and where they stand. They rely on distorted TV commercials to base their opinions of candidates. And we all know that those ads do more about tear down an opponent to elevate self.

Having said all that, I think we must make a differentiation between baseless negative ads and ads that accurately expose actual character defects, policy differences and questionable personal histories. I think they serve a purpose. Meg Whitman, for example, ran some very clever ads which merely let Jerry Brown's own words shoot himself in the foot. Her campaign dug up damning 1995 video of Brown on CNN with Frank Sesno after Brown stepped down as governor. Brown states, "It's all a lie...I had no plan for California." Sesno, on April 16, 1995, asks Brown what he lied about and Brown replies: "Well that's a lot of, you know, ... you say you're going to lower taxes, you're going to put people to work, you're going to improve the schools, the schools, you're going to stop crime, crime is up, schools are worse, taxes are higher. I mean be real."

Not comforting, given the fact that Brown won yesterday's gubernatorial election with not much of an announced plan let alone imagined.

Another Whitman video shows presidential candidate Bill Clinton ripping into Brown for first opposing Proposition 13 and then supporting it. Not bad information to know if you already suspect Brown might try to increase our property tax as a way of supporting a deficit-spending, bloated state bureaucracy.

Commercials like that are fine with me and are a service to the voters. They expose a candidate for who they truly are.

Likewise, I commend Jerry Brown for pointing out Whitman failed to vote for 28 years. I find it deplorable that Whitman - any American, really - could neglect to vote, period, let alone 28 years. I think by now she knows how sad it is that she was derelict in her voting responsibilities.

Where I - and most voters, I believe - have a problem is in the exaggeration ads. They are a real disservice to voters. You can always see them coming. Candidate A finds a small insignificant thing about his or her opponent, extrapolates some more ominous conclusion about the opponent, all while showing really horrible bad-hair-day photos of the opponent with bags under their eyes. Let's not forget the ominously sinister dramatic tunes in the background. Then the ad flips to candidate A, the music gets perky, the colors get brighter and he looks so good as he shakes hands with the farmers or walks along with his happy family. Vomit material.

I have no doubts that political spin could be crafted to make Mother Teresa look like a lousy person. Find and exploit someone who got less than perfect care from her, throw in a quote of hers made on an "off" day, run some photos that made her look far more tired than she normally looked, play some dark, creepy musical strains and you can make Mother Teresa look like Satan. But the truth is it would be a misrepresentation. But for many it doesn't matter because it's about winning at all costs. Nothing seems sacred in politics and that's sad that some become that desperate.

Those of us who stay educated on the issues and chose candidates based on agenda and vision aren't swayed by these exaggerated political ads. They are seen for what they are: tools of manipulation intended to create doubt about opponents and cause fear. Remember that Giventer said people are more prone to vote against a candidate's negatives than vote for an opponent's positives.

No wonder the poor fat, dumb and lazy electorate is agonized during election season. They are tossed about the stormy seas, maybe yes, maybe no, undecided, unsure. There is a solution, but it requires work few are willing to do. Mr. and Mrs. Voter cares more about dancing with the stars than who handles their tax money, and that's scary if you ask me. Slick mailers be damned, get more involved next time and let your own values, and thought process chose your candidates - not the slick masters of deception. You have all the power over negative advertising if you'd just get more involved and do your research. In the internet age, the facts are a mere click away. Walk into the polls confident that your choice and values line up, no matter what those nasty ads tell you.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at