Alfred E. Neuman, the iconic cover boy of Mad magazine, was popularized beginning in 1954. However, the likeness appeared much earlier, including in the early 1930s on a campaign poster for Franklin D. Roosevelt along with the caption, “Sure, I’m for Roosevelt.” As Mad’s face to the world, Neuman’s enigmatic smile and confidence became, “What, Me Worry?”
Since that debut in politics, worry about the dynamics of the nation’s political life has affected voter onlookers in a number of ways, amplified by social media and a daily contest between polar extremes of political expression. While dirty political tricks have often been used as weapons from colonial days, current nastiness has adopted more subtle strategies than those of the clumsy Watergate burglars.
Associating one’s opponent with dark forces has become bread and butter to candidates relying upon dog whistle messaging to spear or smear.
Associating one’s opponent with dark forces has become bread and butter to candidates relying upon dog whistle messaging to spear or smear. In Virginia, the gubernatorial candidates and their aides have embraced the use of devious means to belittle the opposition or invoke images of negative associations with political bogeymen–alleged, mythical, or factual. Some may be laughable in context but all are intended to be destructive and are, in the end, corrosive to political discourse.
This week the email inbox contained a message from Glenn Youngkin with a subject line reading, “The Clintons want control of Virginia BADLY.” The body of the message does not reference the Clintons but is an appeal for a contribution. Out in left field was the reader’s conclusion.
With both major political parties exchanging missile fire about the voting process and procedures as essential to democracy, it has been striking that Virginia politicos have used the topic to pierce one another. With a $200,000 contribution from Dominion Energy, a Democratic PAC mounted an anti-gun media blitz in southern and southwestern Virginia in an attempt to depress rural Republican votes. What is even more astonishing is that this bit of devilment shortly preceded a visit to the Commonwealth by Barack Obama, who challenged the electorate to be confident in the policies of Democrats because they are better than those of the opposition.
Youngkin has tap danced around whether Biden was duly elected, and has advocated a vague proposal to ensure election integrity in the state. He has promised to “pass the largest education budget” in memory despite the fact that governors do not have that authority.
At the same time, Youngkin has tap danced around whether Biden was duly elected, and has advocated a vague proposal to ensure election integrity in the state. He has promised to “pass the largest education budget” in memory despite the fact that governors do not have that authority. But, notwithstanding that, while on the topic of education, the GOP candidate asserted that the ever-mythical George Soros funded candidates to be insinuated into school boards. When challenged by the media, no denial was forthcoming, nor any evidence from official campaign contribution sources.
The Democratic candidate has not been idle in this respect. While criticizing his opponent for waffling on voting rights, McAuliffe, campaigning with Stacey Abrams, declared that she should have been governor of Georgia–and would have been except for voter fraud by the GOP in the Peach State. Geese and ganders are indistinguishable on the campaign trail. Candidates likely believe they are immune from the effects of their inanities and insanities, but the electorate pay the price.
All the while, the political parties and candidates, in a tight Virginia race, are publicly raising money and issuing appeals for voters to get to the polls. Their money and mouths belie the invitation to cast a ballot. In Romeo and Juliet, the wise Shakespeare identified duplicity with “a plague on both your houses” as the Capulets and Montagues engaged in petty feuds. There is no necessity to score the specific offensive behaviors as none are socially redeeming, only a detriment to civic integrity.
Would that we might all be as sanguine as Neuman’s image and motto urge, like the enduring smile of Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, we are consigned to continue our existence while besieged by discordant messages that serve only to diminish our humanity. Indeed, we must worry, not for the proponents of such material, but for ourselves, the recipients. The abhorrent behavior serves only to encourage apathy for voting and civic participation.