Negative political campaigns have gotten so bad that I actually have some nice things to say about yard signs.
I am not a fan of yard signs. I’ve been trying to rid Bartholomew County’s landscape of them for better than a quarter of a century. Obviously, I have not done very well in accomplishing that goal.
My argument against yard signs is that they are roadside or neighborhood litter. However, as overall political campaigns have gotten nastier, I have come to see at least one redeeming quality to most yard signs. They aren’t negative.
In fact, the motivation behind yard signs used to be based on past political races when candidates would make it through an entire campaign without once mentioning the name of an opponent. I suspect frugality was the main reason behind this policy of ignoring opponents. After all, why spend good money to put your opponent’s name before the public?
Obviously, the opposite has proven to be the case in recent decades. These days, television is littered with commercials castigating politicians by name, sometimes without even mentioning the candidate who paid for the ad, except the “I approve this message” disclaimer at the end.
While all this name calling has taken over the airwaves, the people who put out yard signs have hewn to their original intent — name recognition ... their own.
I had almost come to the point of expressing admiration for these clean campaigners, but one day while driving past the political yard sign graveyard in the triangle of land at the intersection of Second, Third and State streets with Central Avenue, I saw placards that indicated that at least one candidate had gone over to the dark side.
A couple of black signs proclaimed to all those who pass by the area that they should “Say no to Joe.”
I had to pull into a small parking lot at the car wash next to the yard sign cemetery to learn who was responsible for the sign. In very small type under the “Say no to Joe” message was the required disclaimer. The ad was paid for by something called “Freedom Works for America.”
The sign intrigued me not so much because it broke the unwritten rule for yard signs (Don’t give your opponent free publicity) but because it used only a first name.
I had a pretty good idea who the “Joe” in the sign was ... Democratic senatorial candidate Joe Donnelly, who is running against Republican Richard Mourdock. It also came as no surprise that the negative yard sign would originate in this contest. After all the Donnelly-Mourdock race is considered to be one of the nastiest in recent memory, with both sides trying all kinds of tactics to smear the other.
Nailing down the assertion that the sign wants voters to say no to Joe Donnelly is the fact that Freedom Works is a national organization with the motto, “Lower Taxes, Less Government and More Freedom.” Current co-chairmen are notable Republicans Jack Kemp, Dick Arney and C. Boyden Grey.
The negativity in the sign is pretty mild compared to the insults that Donnelly and Mourdock have heaped on each other, but it points out the danger in using yard signs for nasty campaigns. How many candidates on this year’s ballot have the first name of Joe?
In Bartholomew County, Joe Donnelly is the only Joe on the local ballot, but what about all the other counties? How many Joes are running with a last name other than Donnelly? Even better, how many Joes are Republicans who believe in lower taxes, less government and more freedom?
Is Freedom Works endangering their political careers by urging voters to “say no to them” just because their first name is Joe. In other words, this negative campaigning by yard sign can backfire on the group. It certainly doesn’t help anybody named Joe.
Who knows, bringing negative politics onto yard signs just might be a death knell for yard signs. I can only hope.
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