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The Boston Globe

Politics

Adrian Walker

Drowning in political ads

While watching a football game sandwiched around a group of political ads the other night, a question ­occurred that stumped me: How could every candidate for every office be “wrong for New Hampshire”?

Of course, I live in ­Boston, not the Granite State. But I have been inundated by political ads aimed at our neighbor to the north and those of the outside groups supporting candidates there. Cheery and positive they are not.

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Not that I necessarily want political adver­tising to be upbeat. But the barrage that has flooded the airwaves in the past month has left me with incredibly conflicted emotions.

I’ve been urged to move the country forward. Conversely, I’ve been told that we cannot afford to go backward. I’ve heard that the game is rigged against the middle class and watched Scott Brown’s wife and daughters assure me that he will be good for women because he is good for them.

I’ve been told that John Tierney is either a knave or a fool and that Richard Tisei is a tea partier. Bill Weld, however, remains fond of him regardless. Our former governor is the kind of man who remembers his old allies.

I’ve been voting for 32 years and watching political ads for longer than that. But the deluge, from all parties and all sides, has seldom been as intense as this fall.

Those who keep track of such matters says this will be the most expensive political year in history.

Between a billion-dollar presidential campaign and Senate campaign spending that has reached the stratosphere, there is no end to the amount of persuasion we are now subject to.

Not long ago — in 1996, to be exact — roughly $7 million was enough for John Kerry to win a Senate race against the aforementioned Weld. And everybody thought that was a lot.

Supposedly, the ads are supposed to tell us who the candidates “really are.” The time-honored progression is from the softly biographical, to ads attacking the opponent — pardon me, drawing a contrast with one’s opponent — and concluding with a polished and positive closing argument. (Voters don’t want their last impression of a candidate to be harsh.)

While I appreciate a well-made ad, I think seeing any candidate in person, in practically any venue, will tell you more about them than almost any 30-second spot. There’s just no substitute for the real thing.

I am well aware that matters could be worse. Thanks to the pact struck early on by the Warren and Brown campaigns, third-party advertising has been effectively kept out of their race. Their ads may border on the repetitive, but at least no one is ­being called names by some anonymous PAC.

Some of the most dramatic ads can be found in support of or in opposition to ballot questions. They tend to rely heavily on melodrama to leave a lasting impression.

Look no further than this years’s advertising on Question 2, the question addressing physician-assisted suicide. In one ad in opposition, viewers are treated to a look at the enormous cocktail of pills that would be required to end a life.

On the other side, relatives tell the gut-wrenching story of a woman who had no opportunity to end her suffering.

Both are riveting, but to what end?

Warren and Brown were smart to zero in on third-party advertising as the path best avoided. The virtual anonymity of the creators and financiers of such ads helps ensure that they set a high bar for cynicism.

Such partisan carpet bombing might have helped one candidate, but it would have been no bargain for voters. Earnestness, while boring, serves voters better than viciousness.

The air wars have just a few days to run. That’s good news, except for the minor ­detail that the last few days are the most ­intense. Once the votes are counted, we will be left with the actual people obscured now behind the images and noise.

We may barely recognize them.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ Adrian_Walker.
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