Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

A Tale of Two Cities

Posted on by arlen

OK, the election is upon us. It’s the only time our government is required by law to listen to us, yet so few of us take advantage of it. One reason may be the success of negative campaign ads. According to the latest numbers from the University of Wisconsin’s Advertising Project (and injecting my own reasonable assumption that negative ads cost the same amount of money to make and broadcast as positive ads) in the last full week of the campaign, John McCain spent just under $6M just to convince me not to vote for Barack Obama. During the same time period, Mr Obama spent about $13M (a little over twice what Mr McCain spent) just to convince me not to vote for Mr McCain. (Based on 63% negative ads for Mr Obama and 79% negative ads for Mr McCain – Story SourceAdvertising Project Home Page)

The process reminds me of a story from Wisconsin’s history, a story about two frontier towns: Sauk City and Prairie du Sac.

These two cities are Wisconsin’s version of the Twin Cities, albeit from a more dysfunctional family. They lie on the shore of the Wisconsin River, and both derive their names from the Sac Indian tribe.

Almost from the day they were founded, these cities kept trying to one-up the other. When the state decreed they had to share one postmaster, and they chose a man from Prairie du Sac, he insisted the post office had to be in Prairie du Sac. When the state appointed the next postmaster for the two towns, obviously the fair thing to do was appoint one from Sauk City. His first act? He and his cronies moved the post office out of Prairie du Sac and into Sauk City lock, stock, and barrel.

When the state built a bridge across the Wisconsin at Prairie du Sac in 1852, nothing would do except for Sauk City have its very own bridge, just a few miles away. They scrapped over everything, from the routing of US highway 12 to the number and location of schools serving the area.

But the story the election brings to mind is the battle over the placement of the county seat. Obviously this is a ripe plum to award to a growing city in the early days of the state. The two cities were of roughly similar size, and were the first major settlements in the county, making either one the logical choice for the seat of county government. Prairie du Sac was made the interim seat, while the legislature pondered where to put it permanently. This, of course, did not sit well with Sauk City, who promptly sent a delegation to the legislature with the prime goal of ensuring the legislators knew it was a Bad Idea to make Prairie du Sac the permanent county seat.

Of course Prairie du Sac wasn’t going to sit still for this, so they sent their people to make sure the legislators knew it was a Really Bad Idea to establish Sauk City as the permanent county seat.

The legislators listened to both delegations, and pondered, and made their decision. The permanent county seat of Sauk County would be — Baraboo!

One and a half centuries later, I find myself in the same position as those state legislators. They listened to the delegations, and were convinced by both of them. Giving the county seat to either was clearly a Bad Idea, so they looked elsewhere. While I’m not saying who gets my vote this year, I will say that both major candidates have made their case, I no longer believe either is fit to be president.

And I say this going forward, hoping (probably in vain) for others to join me, to any candidate that wants my vote: be more concerned with telling me why I should vote for you than telling me why I should vote against your opponent. I don’t care what your opinion is of your opponent personally or of your opponent’s policies. Obviously you disagree with them, or you wouldn’t be in the race, so tell me why your way is excellent, not why your opponent’s way is evil (pronounced “eeeeee-villllllll”).

So long as you run more ads about your opponent than you do about yourself, so long as you spend more time and money talking about your opponent than about yourself, You’ll not get my vote. Period. I don’t care if you’re Abe Lincoln and JFK rolled into one. You’re simply proving you’re not fit to lead.

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November 2008
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