Analyst calls for campaign ads to follow decorum rules

John Feehery, president of communications and director of government affairs for Quinn Gillespie and Associates, recently weighed in on the sharp decline in public trust in the federal government.

“For the last decade, congressional approval ratings have held steady, between 10 and 20 percent,” Feehery told Ripon Advance. “Should we be surprised that so many Americans hold Congress in such low regard?”

One specific cause he describes is the resounding negative and corrupt tone of today’s political ads.

“I think the fact that we live in a brave new world of 24/7 campaigns is a big reason why,” he said. “As soon as one election is over, members of Congress immediately prepare themselves for the next campaign, raising money, doing opposition research and otherwise girding themselves for battle.”

And today’s campaigning, Feehery opines, is a dirty game that scares away many potentially effective leaders. “Given the state of modern campaigning,” he said, “It is not too hard to see why (candidates) so aggressively worry about defending themselves and their reputations.”

In a nutshell, Feehery said improving the tone of political advertising is an important first step in restoring trust in politicians and the work they do, and he feels he has an easy way to do just that.

“I have a simple solution to stopping this endless race to the bottom,” he explains. “Just apply the rules of decorum that are followed in both the House and the Senate to political campaigns.”

These rules come straight from the original book of parliamentary procedure, written by Thomas Jefferson, that were quite clear: “A member should avoid impugning the motives of another member, the Senate or the President, using offensive language or uttering words that are otherwise deemed unparliamentary. These actions are strictly against House rules and are subject to a demand that the words be taken down.”

The Senate added a similar policy in the early 1900s. Failure to comply with the rules of decorum in either chamber can lead to harsh penalties — and even expulsion from Congress.

“Imagine how differently the American people would feel about their elected representatives if they weren’t barraged by thousands of 30-second commercials calling candidates crooks, liars and thieves,” Feehery said. “Imagine if our campaigns were based on issues and experience, rather than ad hominem attacks and slimy innuendo.”

Feehery said this simple rule change would not only lead to better campaigns, but also encourage better-equipped candidates to join the game by default.

“Imagine the quality of candidates who would decide to throw their hats in the ring if they knew that they could engage in substantive discussions about real solutions, rather than risk their reputation in the cesspool of the current political campaign,” he said. “Perhaps by extending the rules of decorum to campaigns, Congress could lead a revolution in social engagement.”