Column: Congressional race sets junk mail record

I was quite pleased to learn at the debate we co-sponsored in Bridgehampton last week that both Congressman Tim Bishop and challenger Randy Altschuler regret the nasty tone of their political advertisements.

Then I opened my mailbox the next day and learned they’re not disappointed enough to make it stop.

“This has been an ugly, bruising campaign,” Mr. Bishop said at our debate. “I think Mr. Altschuler regrets that. I regret that.”

But do they really?

I can’t even watch a video on YouTube without first having to sit through 30 seconds of Congressman Bishop explaining to me how Mr. Altschuler helped destroy the U.S. economy by shipping jobs overseas through his former outscourcing business. And the counter where I store my mail is full of Altschuler campaign fliers that show Nancy Pelosi playing chess, a portrait of Tim Bishop hanging on her wall. “Pelosi can always count on her Bishop,” the ad says. And the public can always count on junk mail from politicians.

I suppose in this new digital age, political advertising is as unavoidable as ever. The solicitations, featuring one outrageous claim after another, hit us over the head everywhere we turn. Then we get phone calls at dinner and knocks on our doors from supporters.

It seems those running for office are less concerned with the possibility of annoying us than ever before, just as they’ve become more focused on attacking their opponents.

That’s certainly the case in this particular Bishop/Altschuler race. This year I decided to save most of the mailings I received as points of reference as we got closer to Election Day. I received at least eight different mailings, most of them many times over, from the two campaigns and their supporters. Only one of them, which came from the state GOP and related to Mr. Altschuler’s successful business career, could be considered positive.

The rest of the ads could only be seen as nasty, gloves-off shots to the jaw.

The Bishop campaign sent my wife one mailer twice in the same day characterizing Mr. Altschuler’s stance on abortion as “extreme,” saying he is “100 percent opposed to a woman’s right to choose, even in cases of rape, incest or when the health of a mother is at risk.” That’s a direct contradiction to what Mr. Altschuler said at our Oct. 15 debate. So how, exactly, is he “100 percent opposed”?

Meanwhile, the Altschuler campaign and his supporting PACs sent me several mailings saying Mr. Bishop has voted to raise taxes, increase the national debt and support stimulus packages that failed to create jobs. Couldn’t you say those same things about virtually every member of Congress? Both sides passed stimulus packages, both spent money and the national debt is a government problem not exclusive to any one political party.

I suppose these misleading advertisements are just a bothersome fact of modern life, like reality television or Lady Gaga. It’s something I’ll have to learn to live with for two months every year, the same way a stay-at-home mom or dad puts up with the rugrats all day long come summertime.

It’s just frustrating to hear both the candidates in this year’s 1st Congressional District race publicly lament the tone and direction the advertising has taken this year.

If they really cared, they’d do something about it.

I also found it troubling when, at both of our debates, Mr. Bishop said criticism of his daughter, who works as his chief fundraiser, is off-limits to the Altschuler campaign. Once one of your daughters goes to work for you, she’s fair game.

Instead of repeatedly stating she’s off-limits, Mr. Bishop should just have pointed to his daughter’s record. Molly Bishop has been an effective fundraiser for the congressman and others during a period of great success for Suffolk Democrats.

We live on an island where Republican enrollment is still way ahead and yet many of the elected offices in Suffolk County are held by Democrats. That’s due largely to the successful behind-the-scenes work of Ms. Bishop and many other tireless young Democrats who have attempted to level the political playing field here.

In a perfect world, politicians wouldn’t seek donations from those they help while in office. Unfortunately, that’s not reality.

To vilify Tim and Molly Bishop for one particular donation, as Mr. Altschuler’s campaign and the editorial boards of several regional media outlets have done, is a little silly.

The truth is most of us do not donate money to political campaigns. Special interests do.

Mr. Parpan is the executive editor of Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at [email protected].