Political ads: some restrictions apply

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When the conventions are over, campaign ads linger. If only they were as up-to-date as today's radio commercials. You know: First comes an earnest pitch for no money down, no interest till 2005, second one free. Then a burst of words too fast to be sure of: We're not responsible for anything. Some restrictions apply, to say the least.

Why don't President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry take advantage of compressed-speech technology that lets advertisers have it both ways, if not three or four? In the typical one-speed campaign ad, the poor candidate has to manfully say, "I approve this message," without specifying which parts are true. Shouldn't these ads be as modern as those selling hair restorers (results may not be the same in all time zones) or no-minimum-balance bank accounts (we won't carry you forever). It's as simple as adding rapid speech to existing ads:

"I'm an optimist about America because I believe in the people of America."

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- Bush

The president isn't saying he believes in the existence of the American people the way some folks believe in weapons of mass destruction. He means having faith in, echoing the great song, "I Believe in You," from a show close to Mr. Bush's heart, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Of course, believing in the people of America doesn't necessarily mean believing in every single individual just because he or she is or was an American. The president doesn't believe in Howard Dean, for example, as a reason for being optimistic about America. Some restrictions apply.

"We're a country of optimists."

- Kerry

John Kerry, who occasionally seems pessimistic about his opponent's policies, counts himself part of this country of optimists. Only an optimistic young man would dare to turn against the Vietnam War in which he was hailed as a hero. Only an optimistic older man would dare to put a handsomely coiffed one-time opponent on his ticket. Only an optimist like John Edwards would accept. Their task is to deal with what Mr. Edwards's fellow Southerner, James Branch Cabell, wrote in 1926, : "The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true." This is a limited offer.

"Maybe John Kerry doesn't understand what his ideas mean to the rest of us."

- Bush ad headlined, "Wacky"

The grainy old comic films bespeak GOP esprit in the face of Kerryisms that would stand four years of patriotic rightward progress on its head. Not that the ideas here represent Mr. Kerry precisely - there's such a thing as caveat emptor, which our staff has been researching. We can't talk about flip-flopping in every ad now that some spoilsports suggest that everybody does it. We're still home free with that line about what they call balancing the ticket in Massachusetts, liberal and more liberal. Note that our guarantee against side effects is extremely limited. We reserve the right to deny admission; that is, to admit nothing.

" ... and he would never leave any American behind."

- Edwards on Kerry in ad

We confess we're teasing the president's "no child left behind" when so many Americans have yet to catch up. The reason isn't to carp in a pessimistic way but to lavish benefits on all citizens - and noncitizens who've chosen our land! - in an optimistic way. We're told the White House doesn't see the Kerry-Edwards team in the same positive light. Well, chacun ses goûts, which our staff is researching. No, we don't accept the charge that Mr. Kerry looks French. He may be a wacky environmentalist, but he didn't invent that bumper sticker: "Save the environment, plant a Bush in Texas." Still, that way not even our ecologically challenged opponent would be left behind.

Roderick Nordell is a former editor at the Monitor.

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