Political scarabs active this year

Every few summers conditions become good for flying, biting and stinging pests. Going outside means contending with clouds of gnats and black flies, or dive-bombing mosquitos. Most of them are gone by mid-October, thankfully.

But every two to four years, a different kind of insect pest emerges — the political scarab.

That’s a name I have come up with for the people responsible for the slew of negative campaign advertising we’ve been suffering through on our TV screens. A scarab, if you didn’t know, is a fancy name for a dung beetle. Dung beetles live in dung, feed on dung and often roll dung up into little balls to take back to their nests.

Political scarabs, in my imagination, are employed to roll up little balls of dung and flick them at political opponents. They hope that if they flick enough of these balls of dung, some will stick to the opponent and make the voters hold their noses when it comes time to vote.

Sometimes political scarabs are employed by the candidates themselves, but most of the time they work for political parties and committees that support candidates, but are not directly connected to the campaign. That way they can issue ads that are more vile and misleading and negative, with the disclaimer, “This ad was prepared and paid for by the Noxious Party Campaign Committee and is not connected to any candidate.” The candidate, therefore, doesn’t have to get dung on his or her own hands, unless, of course, he or she chooses to.

This has been a particularly active season for negative political advertising, as you may have noticed. It’s hard not to notice. We have the governor’s race the attorney general and other state offices open, two senate seats and all the congressional races up for grabs. With the balance of power so evenly divided, especially in the Senate, the two parties are scrapping for every bit of ground they may be able to gain. And that means lots of negative political ads.

Negative political ads follow a pretty predictable format. You get a picture of the opponents with a goofy facial expression, usually one where they are talking and have their mouths open. Or the mouths could be compressed into a frown. If you can get a shot where they are trying to suck a raspberry seed out of their gums, that’s the money shot. The eyes are usually squinting, unless they are popped extra wide open.

The picture is then darkened, the focus fuzzed up until the person looks like someone from a ’40s noir film.

With ominous music in the background, the narrator, voice dripping with disgust and repugnance, says something like, “Joe Blathnik — He walks his dog… and doesn’t pick up after it! You wouldn’t want him in your neighborhood, and you don’t want him representing you in Congress!”

There might be a kernel of truth in that. Joe may have walked his dog one night and forgot to bring a bag, and the neighbor recorded him walking away. Of course, you don’t see him coming back with a bag ten minutes later to pick it up.

The political scarabs don’t want you to see that. The truth really isn’t important in these messages. Anything that can be taken out of context and used to make the opposing candidate look bad is fair game. For them, it’s time to start rolling.


Kevin Sweeney has been the managing editor of The Journal since May 1985. A native of St. Paul, he worked at newspapers in LeSueur and Albert Lea before moving to New Ulm. Contact him at ksweeney@nujournal.com.