I’m mostly happy about the results of the recent election. Several of the propositions I supported passed, and a few Senate races went very well, including the big one – Elizabeth Warren defeating Scott Brown in Massachusetts. And yes, I’m quite happy that President Obama was re-elected, despite his shortcomings in his first term. I was willing to risk his losing in order to stand up for progressivism, but that doesn’t mean I wanted him to lose.
But the most important issue in the election, to me, was California Proposition 37. Prop 37 simply said that foods with genetically modified ingredients should be labelled. And it’s supporters managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
There’s plenty of blame to dole out to prop 37’s opponents – Monsanto Corporation and it’s allies. They stretched the truth, they made up some stuff, heck… they just lied. But I point the biggest finger back at the promoters of prop 37 themselves. They blew it, and I’m ticked off about it. This was important.
The first round of ads for prop 37 were pretty good. They made the point well that we should be informed as to the background and makeup of our food. After watching them, I knew that the opponents were taking their time to design an attack. They came right on time, with the expected techniques on display: Say it’s complicated and bureaucratic, say it’s unnecessary, say it’s expensive, and say it hurts somebody charismatic – firemen, our “troops,” or, in this case, farmers.
An early Right to Know ad:
The attacks on prop 37, though they were lies, were somewhat specific. And you can’t answer a specific attack, regardless of its lack of veracity, with a “Target style” commercial with women dancing around in red and white polka dots, carrying joy-inducing shopping bags. But that’s exactly what was done.
Childish fantasy response video:
When the attack ads came out, I waited. I waited for the refutation of the attacks by the good guys. I waited for our own people in doctor’s lab coats. I waited for scientists standing in front of test tubes – lots of scientists. They never came.
Instead, in answer to: “Prop 37 will cost consumers millions,” we got: “It doesn’t cost a dime.” In answer to: “Prop 37 is illogical in its labeling requirements,” we got: “It’s simple.” Piss poor. The response would certainly seemed like fluffy B.S. to me, had I not already known a lot about the issue.
When I saw the pathetic response by Right to Know, it was too late. They had timed their response correctly, saving their second round of advertizing spending for the final week, but it was too weak.
This chart from Mother Jones show what happened to the popular support for prop 37 once the opposition ads hit:
And now, because this defeat shows a lack of a strong movement for honesty in food labeling, President Obama will most likely put the issue on the back burner indefinitely. This failure has set the semi-existent “food movement” back years. I just hope lessons were learned here.
The same “Target style” technique was attempted by the advocated of prop 38, the alternative to Governor Brown’s tax bill – prop 30. The prop 38 ads had angelic little voices saying: “I’m a cute-voiced little school kid and here’s what I want you grown ups to do to take care of us – vote yes on prop 38, yay!” That one went down like the Hindenburg.
Our side shouldn’t insult the voters’ intelligence. Let the other side do that while we gain real respect by showing that we’re unafraid to tell the whole truth. This is a movement that depends on people understanding somewhat complex ideas and looking ten years or more into the future. Let’s not pretend we’re joyfully going shopping.
Of course, some well-done humor can’t hurt…
Prop 37 spoof ad video:
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.