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Commentary




The sound of political silence descends on Ohio
The election was messy, loud, nagative, and an affirmation of democracy
Story by RICHARD PERLOFF
This story is part of a special series.


 
Richard Perloff says he misses the intensity of the campaigning in Ohio
Courtesy of MARK URYCKI
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A kind of eerie silence has settled over Ohio in the last week, as the press, politicians and pundits have moved on. And in a way, Richard Perloff misses the cacophony.

The Cleveland State University political science professor says the 2012 presidential campaign was raucous, annoying and omnipresent – and a great affirmation that democracy still thrives.

PERLOFF: The grand experiment lives

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So, now the quiet ensues. You can feel it, can’t you?  Those once-sturdy Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan signs, weeks ago planted in the soil of so many front lawns, are blowing to and fro. The once-omnipresent Brown and Mandel signs are quiescent too, strangely out of place now that the election is over.

The noisy negative ads that bemoaned Romney’s record at Bain Capital with bleak images and haunting music; they’re gone too. So is Romney’s ad that suggested Chrysler was moving jobs from Ohio to China, along with the clatter of the claims and counter-claims that the ad distorted the facts.

The festival of politics and Ohio
And the cacophony of correspondents’ stand-ups, agog about the importance of Ohio in the national election, and the ceaseless chatter that Ohio is the center of the electoral universe –Ohio! Ohio! Ohio!; those too have been snatched away, as if plucked out of midair by an all-controlling genie of politics.

 The festival is over, the travelling minstrels have gone home, and gone too is the partisan battle that occupied the airwaves since the first Republicans entered the fray –Romney, Bachman, Huntsman, and later Cain and Perry. The strum and drang of the pre-primaries—Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, charges of sexual harassment, Perry’s brain-dead moments at the debates, Santorum’s run.

Followed by the rhetoric of the conventions – the bold Ryan choice, Eastwood’s empty chair, Bill Clinton’s  speech, Biden’s jeremiads.

Then the drama of the debates -- Obama’s listlessness, Romney’s endless elasticity, Biden’s laughter – and all the back-and-forth of disagreements on the economy and Libya.

All this is past.

Mull it over
The absence of partisan noise is strangely present, inescapable for now. As you mull over the silence, you find yourself taking note

During the campaign, commentators condemned the negative tone, vitriolic ads, and symbolic screeching and wailing of both parties. But, seen from a different perspective, the partisan battles gave the political and social world a distinctive meaning.

If you had chosen a side, the world was neatly divided into good and bad. If you were blue Obama, the red Romney was the apotheosis of capitalistic indifference. If you supported Romney and Ryan, Obama-Biden epitomized the deterioration of values, the displacement of the American ethos of individual responsibility.

For partisans, every day brought new battles and symbolic jousting.

Critics who predictably lamented the onslaught of negative ads missed the larger point.

Negative advertising rarely demobilizes or dispirits, and studies show it does not depress voter turnout.  In fact, it energizes partisans, stimulates interest, and can clarify issues. Research at Vanderbilt University finds that negative ads contain more issue information than political spots, which can be filled with platitudes and Pollyannaish poses.

The negative campaign had its excesses – for example, the deceptions in both Romney’s automobile ad and the ad from a pro-Obama PAC that linked Romney with the death of the wife of a steel worker laid off after Bain Capital came to town.

But, in the main, what sticks in your mind a couple days after the election is the energy that the campaigns summoned, the way they pulled everyday citizens from private pursuits and deputized them to do good, transforming them into political partisans, clear-headed and eyes ablaze, idealistic and hopeful about the future.

Even the much-maligned Citizens United decision that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political commercials took on a lighter hue the morning after.

For all the hundreds of millions pro-Republican PACs spent, they could not oust Obama and they could not deprive the Democrats of control over the Senate. Pro-Democratic PACs could not wrest control of the House from Republicans. The rich spent money trying to sway electoral outcomes, but in the end, voters had this stubborn way of asserting their independence.

At its best, the national clatter of voices opened up the political pores, stimulated the partisan sensibilities, and tickled the collective political spirit.

All of which suggests that the more than two-century-old American experiment in democracy is still vital, throbbing with life, as loud and boisterous as ever. 

 

Richard M. Perloff, Professor of Communication at Cleveland State University and a faculty member since 1979, is the author of books on persuasion and political communication

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