On the Airwaves, It’s ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Negative’

Candidates up and down the ticket in both parties are putting a heavy focus on two programs important to people in or near retirement: Social Security and Medicare. But as often happens in campaigns, it’s mostly in negatives and not so much in positives. And the negatives come, overwhelmingly, in the form of attack ads in the one-step-removed environment of the airwaves.

In Virginia, for example, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen are duking it out over defense spending and tax policy on the stump and in debates. But on the airwaves, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going after Allen on Social Security, accusing him of wanting to “privatize” the program. In Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly has largely focused his criticism of Republican Richard Mourdock (who defeated incumbent Richard Lugar in the GOP primary) on Mourdock’s controversial comments dismissing bipartisanship. But on the air? The DSCC is going at him hard, running an ad that quotes Mourdock questioning the constitutionality of both Social Security and Medicare. In upstate New York, Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican, and Julian Schreibman, his Democratic challenger, have been sparring on jobs and the economy. But Gibson has an ad in which he promises his mother: “Mom, you hear a lot on the news today - Medicare, it’s going to be taken away from senior citizens. Don’t believe that for anything.” Gibson gives no details of his own position.

Medicare and Social Security have crept into stump speeches on the presidential trail only recently. But on the presidential campaign stage as well, the applause lines tend to be little more attacks on dangers of the other candidate’s approach.

If you’re not part of the solution, the old saying goes, you’re part of the problem. But this rule doesn’t seem to apply so well in politics – especially in campaign ads, where there’s no one around to respond in real time. Maybe we’ll just have to wait until after the elections to hear more about the solutions. -Susan Milligan