Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
In a free market capitalist economic system, supply and demand rules. Individuals or companies develop and price products to appeal to a market. If the demand is high, the price increases. If demand is low, the price decreases. The political system is much the same way- candidates create an image that will appeal to their market- the voters. It doesn’t necessarily have to be reality based. Pragmatic candidates view values and convictions secondary to getting votes and winning. Making false claims about themselves or their opponent is acceptable, but that wouldn’t work if a political candidate were a can of green beans.
The Federal Trade Commission requires that all advertisements must be truthful, fair and free of misleading representation. All claims in advertising must be substantiated with solid proof. The Federal Trade Commission has a Deception Policy Statement that describes an advertisement as deceptive if a misleading feature of the ad sways a consumer into purchasing or using the product or service. This definition also applies to information that is deliberately omitted or withheld from the consumer that affects purchase decisions. To determine if an ad is deceptive, the FTC considers both direct and implied claims in the context of the ad. That is why you don’t see as many ‘comparison claims’ on consumer products that you saw in decades past. Exaggerating the features of your product while downplaying the competition’s features became next to impossible to prove, so most consumer product companies abandoned the old ‘we’re better than brand x’ strategy. But the strategy is alive and well in politics.
In a study conducted by the Washington Examiner they found that 90% of the political ads in the 2016 presidential general election were attacking the opponent, not extolling the virtues of the candidate. Their study found that both Trump and Clinton ads were of the attack variety. Both campaigns were equally guilty. They spent most of their time and money trying to convince voters their opponent was bad and therefore by default they were good. Sadly, those same tactics have wormed their way down to local politics. Candidates for state legislature and county offices often succumb to ‘comparison’ campaigning pieces, attacking or downright lying about their opponent’s positions. They often include in the same piece, a family picture and a resume of their sainthood. It’s hypocritical and should be illegal. If the FTC were in charge of campaign claims, a large percentage of politicos would be paying fines for misleading advertising.
Caveat emptor is a Latin term that means ‘let the buyer beware.” It means that goods are sold ‘as is’ and the buyer assumes the product may fail to meet expectations or have defects. In politics it should be Caveat suffragator, Latin for ‘let the voter beware.” When elected officials lie to win, is it no wonder, voters are often disappointed when they fail to meet expectations? The election claims of candidates should at least be as truthful as the claims of ramen noodles.