Imagine you're applying for a job. In your pitch to a prospective employer, you don't mention your experience or present a resume. You spend the entire interview lambasting any other potential candidates. You compare them to monsters and animals. You accuse them of crimes you know they did not commit, and impugn their character in other ways.
Would you get the job?
Sadly, the answer may be: only in politics.
Negative campaigning is not new. Highly paid consultants have convinced candidates at every level that attack ads are effective, and that to win office, they must go negative.
In the current campaign for the state Senate seat in the 2nd District, which includes most of Atlantic County, the repulsively negative ads have been outrageous and unrelenting. Mailers and television ads from Democratic incumbent Sen. Jim Whelan and Republican challenger Assemblyman Vincent Polistina have consisted almost entirely of sophomoric attacks, without making much effort to tell voters where either candidate stands on the issues.
Using doctored images, the candidates and their parties have portrayed each other as greedy pigs, money-sucking vampires, hucksters and crooks one step from being slapped into handcuffs. And they've done it while knowing that the charges and countercharges are based on tortured reasoning and flimsy logic.
Based solely on the campaign, it is hard to imagine either of these men as someone you'd want representing the district in the Senate.
And that's a terrible shame, because both candidates have a lot to offer and have served the district well. Unfortunately, in the upside-down world of political races, their strengths have been used against them.
Whelan and Polistina both make their living in the public sphere. Whelan has been a state assemblyman, a longtime Atlantic City mayor and councilman, a career teacher and a lifeguard. Polistina has worked as a township planner, and his engineering firm does work for many local governments.
Neither Whelan nor Polistina should be ashamed of the public work they have done. But they should both be ashamed of using the other's service as a club in this campaign. If you didn't know better, the campaign ads would make you think that working in or for government is a criminal act.
Leaders don't lower themselves to farfetched, disingenuous rhetoric. It is insulting to voters' intelligence.
Take a look at the readers' comments below. See if you don't agree with most of them. Voters are turned off by these kind of attacks.
And that's the worst part of these coarsening campaigns. They coarsen voters as well. When voters aren't treated as intelligent people who can make a decision based on the real issues facing the state, they tune out. They stop caring.
Political candidates owe voters a lot. This year, both Whelan and Polistina owe them an apology.