Muzzling the political candidates

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Column by Jim Clark

By Jim Clark

When you work for a newspaper, you’re expected to defend the First Amendment. For the most part I do that, even in some unpopular causes, but there’s something that is taking place across America concerning political campaigns that bothers me.

The campaigns are too negative, filled with hateful charges, some of them baseless. They are intrusive, disturbing the lives of many Americans who might care enough to want information without it being rammed down their throats.

That’s why I’m proposing a couple of legislative changes all across America.

1. The federal do-not-call list should apply to politicians. For some reason, they were exempted when this list was established, you know, the list that telemarketers are supposed to pay attention to. I have to admit, in that regard, it has worked for me and cut down tremendously on the phone calls, especially at dinner time.

So why should politicians be exempt. If people don’t want to be disturbed, they shouldn’t be disturbed. The candidates ought to be smart enough to know this, but, well, I guess not.

Last weekend I received two phone calls from a phone number in Washington, D.C. Both were recordings, as are most of these. One was from a county candidate, the other from a Congressional candidate. Obviously, this group had been hired to make these calls. So that’s my proposal number one, to stop the phone calls.

2. This one is more far-reaching. I want a law that reaffirms that a person’s name and photo, or likeness, and voice, belongs to that person, and cannot be used in any paid advertisement or commercial without their consent. You would run into serious First Amendment problems if you tried to stop any media from using those things in public record situations or in events that happen out in the public, but in commercials and ads it ought to be banned. It would stop, for instance, Rick Scott from using the worst pictures of Bill McCollum he could find. It would stop Alex Sink from using actors pretending to be Scott and McCollum.

We were fortunate to have a pretty good crop of candidates in this past primary running in Marion County. The campaigns were largely positive, and at the forums we were at the candidates spoke and joked a little with each other. That’s the way it should be.

But statewide, it was just a disgrace, and it isn’t over yet. The Congressional and Senatorial races are going to be especially dirty.

Since a lot of these candidates won’t do it on their own, let’s force them to be positive. They can use phrases such as “my opponent,” but no names and no faces, other than their own or their families, in the advertisements.

Of course, the problem with this is that Congress would have to pass the law, and our federal legislators are among the worst violators. So I guess that would never work.

But it would be nice to go through some of these campaigns without seeing the candidates sinking into the gutter. A candidate who takes the high road might find it beneficial.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at editor@smcitizen.com or at 352-854-3986.