Can politicians be sold like cottage cheese?

A viewer's guide to the campaign ad season.

elections06.article.298 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
A rule of thumb I try to live by is never to buy products that are advertised by jingles, inane ditties, or blondes perched on car hoods in minimal red attire. I emphasize "try" because in the modern world which Israel has striven to join, with me in tow, it is virtually impossible to stay alive while boycotting products thus advertised. These musings were set off by the official beginning of election advertising on radio and television this Tuesday, a phenomenon that will assault our eyes, ears and intelligence until election day, three weeks away. These mandatory broadcasts are predicated on the assumption that political parties and candidates can be sold successfully in the same way that cottage cheese and hair conditioners that go "whoosh" are. I am personally affronted buy this advertising strategy because it is based on the axiomatic assumption that I and all other consumers are inexorably driven by the primitive forces of our brain stems to succumb to these ploys. Predicting and understanding why and how voters vote is still very far from being an exact science. Hence the weeks- and even months-long election campaigns, in which parties and candidates are given near-unlimited freedom to perform as well they can before their audiences. It is also an opportunity for the outside "creative" elements hired by the parties to show that voting behavior is largely "irrational" and thus more responsive to song and rhyme than to boring prose delivered by party hacks. The most that can be said in favor of the political broadcasting is that it bumps some of the most egregious television and radio "garbage" from prime time. In the evenings it also provides the grist for early morning political kaffeklatches in thousands of work places at which more intelligent political analyses from the rank and file "amcha" may be heard. And since the broadcasts "only" cost several million shekels, why not? A MUCH more important development this week, one that may well serve to shake up an otherwise somnolent election campaign, was the scoop by Channel 10's political correspondent Raviv Drucker concerning Omri Sharon's "to-do" agenda of political appointments in exchange for political support for his father, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. That the main practitioner of the politics of patronage was Omri Sharon has long been no secret. But never before has so much evidence surfaced - enough for a textbook on Gutter Israeli Politics 101 - and in the midst of an election campaign, yet. The system was certainly not invented by Sharon pere et fils. It goes back as far as Shraga Netzer, the eminence grise of founding father David Ben-Gurion's party. Ben-Gurion and his fellow Mapai heads Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Pinhas Sapir were savvy enough politicians to realize the need for Shaga Netzers to run their party by employing the tool of patronage. But they were also sensitive enough to place themselves as far away as possible from the dirtier aspects of party politics. As for the Shraga Netzers of their day, they were wise and self-effacing enough to do that dirty work without demanding the political limelight for themselves. Previous scoops on egregious political patronage in recent years did result in some good: for example, the establishment of the Revivi Committee to approve appointments to the upper levels of the political system and the Civil Service. It might well be that the public uproar over the Omri Sharon affair leads to further tightening up of the standards for such appointments. Even before these revelations, newly installed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni expressed the hope that the practice of foreign ministers personally appointing 11 non-foreign-service ambassadors would come to an end. THE SERIOUS implications of the Omri affair go far in explaining the gradual decline in the quality of the Civil Service, especially in regard to the heads of government agencies and companies and members of their boards. A funnier aspect of the entire affair was the attempt of some Likud leaders to place the entire blame on the breakaway Kadima. MK Gilead Arden, head of the Likud's "political response" team, was quoted as saying: "Today the manner in which Kadima was established has been revealed before all. No honest person can identify himself with a movement guided by such values." Arden conveniently overlooked the fact that Omri Sharon's calendar referred to the Likud of which he was still part, and in whose name he distributed political goodies. These problems have been around our politics from day one, as they have in nearly all other democratic political systems. Arden's attempt, however, to make political hay of his own party's shady practices may be the best evidence for modifying Darwin's theory of evolution when it comes to politics. In Arden's case, what seems to be at work is the principle of "survival of the unfittest."