There are many things to dislike about political advertising, many things to despise, in fact. We are usually at our very worst as a society in our campaign ads: we deliberately distort, we call names, we insinutate the unthinkable.
All of this we accomplish by selling access to our elected officials in order to pay for it. [Photo Courtesy of the Burlington Free Press]
The coming Presidential election will eventually cost more than a billion dollars, maybe two, the lion’s share consumed by sixty-second advertisements.
And that torrent of advertising will turn off far more voters than it turns on, very effectively depressing voter turn-out.
But if this is usually the case, it isn’t always so. There are relatively clean campaigns, and there are good-hearted, even beautiful campaign ads.
The 2006 Congressional campaign is a perfect case in point. To her credit, Martha Rainville pledged to run a clean campaign against Peter Welch, and she kept her word even as the race moved down to the wire.
The national GOP playbook, as written by operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, would certainly have called for Rainville to rough Welch up: a trial attorney, and one without military experience, Welch was at least potentially vulnerable to attack. Especially by a female Adjutant General.
But Rainville didn’t go for the jugular. And that decision allowed Peter Welch’s campaign the breathing room to produce one of my favorite campaign ads of all time.
It was an unassuming little sixty-second radio spot, nothing glamorous, called “Two Voices.” And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell: the spot is just two voices, one the wife of Vermont’s longtime Democratic Senator, and one the wife of the state’s famous Independent.
Just Marcelle Leahy and Liz Jeffords, talking about how long they’d been friends, and the candidate they’d both decided to support for Congress:
LEAHY: When you’ve been friends for over 30 years . . .
JEFFORDS: . . . you can almost finish one another’s sentences.
LEAHY: I’m Marcelle Leahy . . .
JEFFORDS: . . . and this is Liz Jeffords. Our husbands Jim and Patrick never shared the same party. But they’ve always shared a commitment to protecting the environment, improving education and putting Vermont first.
It was a genuinely brilliant bit of political speech, that ad, and when I first heard it, I thought for the very first time: this election is over.
Liz Jeffords, of course, died just a few days ago at the Jeffords’ home in Shrewsbury, following a recurrence of ovarian cancer.
The “Two Voices” was one of her last bits of political activism in a life filled with good works.
But the more I think of it in the days since her passing, I can’t help but be struck by the grand irony of it all: for most Vermonters, the “Two Voices” ad will be the last words they ever hear Liz Jeffords speak.
And in a very strange, bittersweet way, then, the normal grind of campaign getting and spending and attacking and wasting managed — in this one case — to produce an unexpected miracle: it brought the voice of Liz Jeffords, and her dear friend Marcelle, to the four corners of the state, for all of us to hear and linger over.
All sixty precious seconds of it.
[This piece aired originally on Vermont Public Radio. An MP3 is Many thanks to Chris Klose for technical assistance, and for writing the advertisement in the first place. ]