Humor Brings Light Instead of Darkness to Political Ads

When Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ran for governor of Colorado in 2010, he appeared in his own television ads, saying, "I can't stand negative ads. Every time I see one, I feel I need to take a shower."

Hickenlooper, wearing a coat and tie, then stepped into a shower to find relief after presumably watching a negative ad. The commercial continued with Hickenlooper, appearing in different clothes, stepping again and again into the shower.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, won the election and now faces re-election.

Hickenlooper's ad demonstrates how humor neutralizes the toxins of attack ads. It engages us rather than repels us. And it leaves us with a more positive image of politicians and politics.

Why, then, don't more political campaigns use humor in their television ads?

Billions of dollars will be spent on political ads airing on television this year - and much of that money will be spent on attack ads.

The Republican Governors Association released a particularly offensive ad attacking Vincent Sheehan, a Democrat who is challenging South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

The ad says that Sheehan had defended rapists when he worked as a criminal defense attorney. "Next time Sheehan says he'll protect women from violent criminals, ask him about the ones who paid him to protect them. Vincent Sheehan protects criminals, not us."

And that's not all.

Sheehan also believes in the Bill of Rights and, in particular, the 6th Amendment's guarantee of a fair trial and a suspect's right to counsel.

Political ads have grown increasingly odious since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which said corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on ads that called for either the election or defeat of individual candidates.

In addition, Citizens United freed wealthy individuals, including billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers, to contribute "dark money" to political action committees and special interest groups, which are not required to disclose contributors or how much they spend.

PACs use "dark money" to dump raw sewage into political advertising to smear political opponents. Money has always been the bully's currency in politics. But never before in political advertising have the affluent spent so much on the effluent.

Humor, however, contains the acids to cut through the effluence and show us the light at the end of the sewer.

In a March television ad, Joni Ernst, who was then a little-known Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, says that growing up on a farm she learned how to castrate hogs.

"So when I'll get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork," Ernst says.

Ernst easily won the Republican nomination and is running ahead of her Democratic opponent in polls.

In 2008, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's Chuck Norris ads helped Huckabee emerge from the crowded field of GOP candidates during the 2008 presidential campaign to win several primaries.

Humor brings light instead of darkness to political advertising. Does it give us better politicians than the ones who hide behind attack ads? Probably. But it certainly makes us feel better about politics and politicians.