Let’s End the Gotcha Game

Attack ads are an insult to Jersey voters.

Illustration by Darren Thompson.

When will the gotcha game end in New Jersey politics? Our property taxes are through the roof.  The unemployment rate is alarming. More than 1 million of us are without health insurance. Small businesses are hanging by a thread. Too many schools continue to fail, and crime in our cities is running rampant.

Do any of our gubernatorial candidates have a plan for dealing with such problems? You wouldn’t know from the endless stream of nasty, negative, and largely irrelevant 30-second television and Internet commercials being inflicted on New Jerseyans this election season. Attack ads are nothing new in American politics, but in New Jersey they are an art form.

Chris Christie blames Jon Corzine for every ill in the Garden State. If you’ve lost your job in the last 3½ years, you can blame Corzine, according to the GOP. Corzine also is blamed for our culture of corruption, which in fact dates to the state’s first Governor, Lord Cornbury in 1703.

And Christie? The Democrats want us to believe his best friend is George Bush. Thanks to some creative editing, one frequently aired Corzine commercial shows former U.S. Attorney Christie clapping every time Bush’s name is mentioned. The implication: If you hated George Bush, there is no way you could like Chris Christie.

The Democrats paint Christie as a right-wing, out of touch, reactionary gun nut and anti-abortion zealot. Did you see the commercial where he presumably dodges questions by walking out of a Congressional committee hearing? Of course, we are not told that Christie and the chairman of the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee agreed to a specific length of time for Christie’s testimony.  The Democrats knew he was leaving and were only trying to embarrass him when he walked out at the agreed upon moment. Congressional Democrats playing a supporting role in a Corzine attack ad against his opponent? Shocking.

We hear a lot about loans to old girlfriends, longtime friends, and former associates.  Relevant?  Slightly, but these matters do not go to the core of what really matters to voters. If New Jersey’s problems weren’t so serious, these TV spots might be seen as slightly entertaining. But they are not. They are degrading and condescending. They insult our intelligence. They assume we don’t give a damn about what the candidates believe.

Why can’t Corzine and Christie, as well as Independent candidate Chris Daggett, look in the camera and tell us who they are and how they would govern? What’s so crazy about standing up for yourself instead of tearing down someone else? The answer is simple. So-called campaign experts say attack ads work. No one, they say, wants to hear a candidate take a positive approach.

What crap. Those campaign advisors are lazy and cynical. They don’t know or care about solving social ills. What they know is how to destroy other people’s reputations by using half truths, innuendo, grainy footage, and ominous music.

Enough is enough. Attack ads don’t belong in today’s New Jersey.  They are safe. Predictable. But New Jersey needs more. We need a real conversation among competing candidates who would dare to lead our state during these difficult and challenging times. Isn’t that what you want? The ball is in the candidates’ court. Don’t hold your breath.

What do you think?  Write to me at [email protected].

Steve Adubato, PhD. is an Emmy Award-winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET and a media analyst and columnist for MSNBC.com, who also appears regularly on CBS 2. He is the author of the book Make the Connection, as well as his newest book What Were They Thinking?, which examines highly publicized and often controversial public relations and media mishaps. For more information, log on to stand-deliver.com.

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