I approve this message.

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript of this recording:

Dear Campaign Ad Writers,

You're probably still rejoicing, or mourning, depending on how last night's decision turned out. For months, you've invested time and your best talents to promote your candidate, taking information gathered by others to praise and smear, always in the hope of gaining an edge. Some of your top writing happened this year. You had 30 second spots to work with, billboard dimensions to hem you in, newspaper word counts, footage from archives to paint two pictures, perhaps cameras and lighting crews, a budget, an angle, and a mandate.

You were essential. Your work, done well, could change history, and you knew it.

Regardless of your mood this morning, there is, possibly, a reason for confession. While your project most likely rendered pride, there were times when beneath the celebration of dirt well-placed, even thick skin felt the hesitation of harsh words going public. You cringed. That was your text. Had you paused to feel for a moment, you know the same words could not have been said in person. You are kind at home, for example; a host or hostess who, though opinionated, enjoys good food, laughter, and respectable discussion with company. After pleasant evenings, guests always bid farewell wishing to return.

Public insult, though, from the norms of previous campaigns and from pop culture sources as far from you as American Idol, differentiated your work life. Insult was acceptable there. Harsh criticism thrived in a context where peer pressure affirmed it. In that arena, political aspiration, national attention, and the basic human desire to know that your work matters came together to create a second you. Success in the whirl of election excitement trampled civil discourse underfoot.

For the sake of winning, you sliced an opponent's career into talking points, five and ten words long. You edited, “Oh yeah?! Well you...” and kept everything after. 

As the election results wear off, you'll look back on your work. You'll remember that derision isn't you. It wasn't part of your childhood instruction. It wasn't endorsed by the professors who inspired you. It sits uneasily with you now, though you believe it was necessary for victory and for the aversion of perceived dangers that threaten American life.

Words have been your gift. People pay you to compose them just so. They come easily and you wish to use them well, though now you have the growing sense that you've betrayed them. 

The good news is that you can be forgiven.

Aligning with your candidate when he says, “I want to congratulate my opponent on a hard fight” does not cover months of slander. Assuming pardon when your candidate says of the loser, “I wish the best for you” does not erase distortion. It does not patch wounds caused by a year of playground antics and bullying.

As life resumes, I hope you find rest. I also hope you'll consider this citizen's request:

Please remember that nations around the world have observed your product and wondered what good exists in such ruthless strikes. Please remember that my children have observed your product and wondered, by way of message approvals, how your candidate's opponent could be such a bad person. Unable to discern adequately, my children assumed your messenger stood alone as the one source of good. (How many of us remain unaware just like them.)

For our sake, and for the sake of decency and respectability, please consider your actions and make amends. Do it this week. Enjoy the fruit of humility and a clear conscience. This is the high road for you and for us. I look forward to seeing your work again in the future. I will recognize it when it rings of competition fused with neighborly love.

Until then, peace be with you.

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Eric J Dolce November 7, 2012 at 4:50 PM  

I can't recall ever finding a way to put the words "gracious" and "rebuke" together and had it make sense... until now.

Great post brother!

Charity Singleton November 7, 2012 at 5:07 PM  

Sam - This was wonderful. There always does seem to be a lot of fence mending and repenting to be done after an election. In fact, the election may have done the damage equivalent to Sandy when it comes to human lives hurt and wounded in its wake.

Sam Van Eman November 7, 2012 at 6:11 PM  

Eric, I wanted that kind of balance. I'm glad it came through. Good to hear from you.

Charity, so much damage, and from so many places: comments, bumper stickers, lunch rooms, news stations....

Joel Daniel Harris November 7, 2012 at 8:45 PM  

This is absolutely beautiful & compelling. It needs to be a full page ad in the NYT or posted somewhere that important people (and perhaps even normal folks) can sign their name in full agreement.

Sam Van Eman November 7, 2012 at 9:04 PM  

Thanks, Joel. I wonder if a code of ethics exists for campaign writers? Official or not, there must be a set of rules of some kind.

Melissa Miller,  November 7, 2012 at 10:32 PM  

Thank you for writing this Sam. I love it.

Sam Van Eman November 7, 2012 at 10:34 PM  

I haven't written here in so long, Melissa, but this has been on my mind and I simply couldn't ignore it. Always good to hear from you.

David R November 8, 2012 at 11:33 AM  

IT seems that truth took a back seat on the last bus.

It makes wonder if people will ever just turn on the system.

Unfortunately, it's only the righteous that are disgusted

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