Dumbest political attack ad I’ve seen

…For this fall set of New England elections, anyway. It’s paid for by the campaign of Elizabeth Roberts, who for some damned reason is eager to be Lieutenant Governor of…well, does the actual state matter? Emperor Norton wielded more authority than any sitting Lieutenant Governor.

The point of this ad seems to be “My opponent has a real scary beard. You know who else has a real scary beard? Do I actually have to say it? Really?”

It’s funny enough that the damnable accusation she makes is that “Robert Healey, if elected, has no plans to kill the sitting Governor and then enact his own plan to singlehandedly create jobs for the State of Rhode Island.”

But the best bit is the reason why he plans to do nothing if elected: he’s running on a platform of “The office of Lieutenant Governor does absolutely nothing for the people of the state and should be reduced to little more than a standby title, saving taxpayers a million dollars a year.” He promises, if elected, to accept no salary and hire no staff.

From a recent Providence Journal piece about Healey:

That Quest Research poll showed incumbent Roberts at 48 percent to Healey’s 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.

“She thought she was going to have a cakewalk, and now she has a race,” Healey said of Roberts during a recent interview.

Over breakfast of French fries and coffee at Rod’s Grill in his hometown of Warren, Healey groused that the lieutenant governor’s office “is all pet projects that you make up yourself. People use it to push their [way to] higher elective office.”

During a recent Channel 10 political roundtable with Roberts and Venturini, Healey discounted Roberts’accomplishments and said, “It’s all talk, talk, talk. The office has no power.”

If elected, Healey said he will work for free, fire the staff, suspend his legal practice and resign as president of his Zultan Corporation. He said he’s ready to serve as governor if required.

I have instantly gone from having no idea who Elizabeth Roberts and Robert Healey are to predicting that the former will be selling real estate in ten years’ time and that in a hundred years the latter will be on a commemorative postage stamp.

I’m not one of these “the best government is no government” types but Healey plugs into an instinctive logic that appeals to voters: for God’s sake, don’t elect people who are at all eager to be in a position of power. It’s OK if they see power as a necessary tool for getting things done and improving the lives of your fellow citizens. But anybody willing to go this far to become — again, the phrase “Oh, for God’s sake” comes to mind — a lieutenant governor should probably be kept away from the liquor cabinet.

Plus: though I do personally think that a city mayor, a governor, and the President should be active, hands-on officials (I understand if they want to take an occasional afternoon off for their kids’ soccer games but otherwise, I expect them in the office at least five days a week), I think it’s up to Roberts to explain why the Lieutenant Governor’s office is important. Why should she need more than a $100 month state-paid cellphone contract? Here’s your special phone: if the Governor pops his clogs or suddenly realizes how much more money he could be making on the corporate lecture circuit, we’ll call you. We’ll even throw in a car charger.

Actually, let’s kite the Lieutenant Governor’s budget up to $500 a month. It’ll cover gas money. She should drive up to the state capital once a week and take a regular meeting on how things are going. And maybe refresh herself on how the Governor’s Office phone system works. If the head of the state government is killed in a North Korean missile attack, we don’t want the new acting Governor to waste time asking people if she needs to dial “9” first before calling FEMA and the Army guys.

My reaction to this political ad kind of underscores my lifelong relationship with commercials. The best an advertiser can ever hope to accomplish is to communicate to me that their product or service exists. The only way an ad has ever actually influenced my decisions in any way has been to convince me to stay as far as way from the thing as humanly possible.

I mean, for all I know, Roberts is a fine public servant. But jeez, a campaign slogan of “my opponent has a scary beard” won’t win the hearts and minds of sensible men and women.

20 thoughts on “Dumbest political attack ad I’ve seen

  1. Cecil

    Actually, here in Texas, the Lieutenant Gov. arguably has more power than the Governor.

    The Lite Gov is the Chair of the State Senate, and as such, controls all of the committees and all of the calendar for the Senate. He assigns all bills to whatever committee he chooses, and there’s no appeal. He’s also the sole authority on parliamentary questions in the Senate.

    He’s also on the “Legislative Budget Board” that basically pre-writes the state budget before the leg convenes.

    Much more than just calling up the Governor’s Mansion every morning to say “Is he OK this morning?”

  2. Michael

    Amusingly in Texas, the Lieutenant Governor has more real authority than the Governor. Our Light Gov is the presiding officer of the state Senate. This is a holdover from reconstruction, when they were trying to limit what the appointed governors could do. The Railroad Commissioner has more power than the Governor in Texas.

    That’s why, when anyone stated that having been Governor of Texas was an adequate background for being President of the US, we disagreed…

  3. Daniel Hall

    Andy, you do realise that your heading is like saying “hottest Saharan noon-day sun ever”? Although I must admit it’s up there with them.
    We had elections recently in Australia, with 95% if both party’s campaigns consisting of belittling the opposition. Where is the ad providing you with *her* policy on jobs? I bet it’s hard to find

  4. Paul Collins

    + for Emperor Norton reference. Best Emperor in American history. I know, this time of the electoral cycle it’s better not to look. Been holding my nose while transferring attack postcards from mailbox to recycle bin, hoping the ink used is less toxic than the words. On the upside, thanks to Oregon’s vote-by-mail I’ve already voted and need not be concerned anyway.

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  6. William Carr

    Okay… now I hope steveballmer doesn’t get mad again and start throwing chairs at me…

    But let’s review. The ad includes the opponent’s actual photo. (It’s not photoshopped with that guy in ZZTop ?)

    And includes his statement that he thinks the job is worthless, and if elected he will do absolutely NOTHING.

    So far I’m on Ms. Robert’s side.

    The LT may be less important, but shouldn’t he/she at least be competent at doing SOMETHING before being elected?

    To me this smacks of the “government is useless and unnecessary” baloney that’s going around.

  7. Ihnatko Post author

    I know nothing about Healey tha I haven’t read in a couple of news pieces today. But articles describe him as an attorney and self-made millionaire.

    He doesn’t seem to want to eliminate the office. His opinion appears to be that the Lieutenant Governor’s office spends its budget on projects that elevate the official’s profile with voters and line him or her up for a run at higher office.

    Which only goes to show how wrong-headed this ad is. If he’s wrong, then the incumbent can use those thirty seconds to patiently explain everything the Lt. Gov. has accomplished for the people of the state, that only a real lightweight would think that it isn’t a fulltime job, et cetera.

    If he’s right, then the best you can do is show an unflattering photo and claim that he has no plan to bring jobs to Rhode Island.

    See what I mean? I don’t necessarily agree with him, but boy, is this ad a Grade-A Failure.

  8. mk

    Something is just wrong when political campaigns are about talking badly about the opponents rather that talking about what you want to do.

  9. Rhode Island Red

    steveballmer wrote – And includes his statement that he thinks the job is worthless, and if elected he will do absolutely NOTHING.

    Actually, what Bob Healey says he is going to do is to save Rhode Island taxpayers roughly a million dollars a year while holding office. I don’t think that is absolutely NOTHING.

  10. Fort Master

    Lol! I read the title of the post and was almost certain that the post was about Steve Jobs’ recent diatribe against Android! It has got the scariest fragmented beard after all! I guess Andy is unbiased but not enough :)

  11. RI Resident

    For those of you who are not RI residents, please realize that the position of Lt. Governor in Rhode Island has no power whatsoever. They have no influence or authority over any of the three branches of government, and the Lt. Governor constitutionally has no responsibilities until the Governor is unable to perform his/her duties.

    Despite this fact, the Lt. Governor’s office has over $1,000,000 budget to do – nothing. And the Lt. Governor receives full health benefits and a six figure salary.

    What Healey is pledging is to be the Lt. Governor “pro – bono”. He will not take a salary or hire a staff from the budget. And will work to reduce or remove the position while he is in office. He has no ‘plans for jobs’ because the position has no authority to have a plan for anything.

    Healey may look weird with his long beard, but he’s a very smart guy. Roberts (the candidate running this ad) started to worry when the Republicans had someone run for the Lt. Governor position in the primary, then immediately drop out of the race, making it a one on one battle between Healey and Roberts. The fact that there is an ad at all illustrates how worried she really is about losing to him.

  12. Tony

    If someone is eager to run the state , under no circumstances should they be allowed to do so.
    Of course in the UK the post would already have been abolished ;)

  13. Tony

    @Stephen as a resident of wales can I say I would rather trust the guys in the bay than the lot we have in London. At least they are close enough to keep an eye on.

  14. romzburg

    It is obviously true that political discourse must include criticism of one’s opponent. To say that political ads should consist solely of talking about what one would do oneself is just shallow thinking, if it qualifies as thinking at all. If you have some nice ideas about making things better, and your opponent wants to round up all the Muslims and put them in camps, it is stupid to say you shouldn’t mention that he has bad plans for the future, and that your plans are better. It is impossible to contrast yourself without talking about your opponent. Fair criticism is entirely honorable.

  15. Dave

    You get 30 seconds for the average ad. If you have one idea per ad, you can describe a problem and offer a solution, with a website to go into detail. This ad does nothing to promote her ideas, but gives credibility to his. If she loses, this ad may be the one that did it for her.

    I am a person who believes that the politicians should be there for a limited time with limited power, top to bottom. It is hard to believe that these people will spend millions for a job that pays pennies on the dollar for the campaign. Most don’t spend their money, but ours via the camaign matching funds. But their part comes at a cost of paying back the favor of a donation. IMHO

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