T.D. Poole's Latest Political Ad Takes on the National Debt
August 30, 2012by Austin Baird
When the 85-year-old gets angry about something - politicians, racists, war - he doesn't just rant to his friends or fire off letters to the editor of the local paper. He takes out his pen and his checkbook and pays for an ad in The News & Observer, The Washington Times and other newspapers.
His most recent took up a full page in a Sunday edition of The News & Observer and railed against federal spending and the national debt, topics central to campaign narratives this election cycle and many past.
Poole said he placed the ad because he's fed up with lies being presented and accepted as facts and with real problems being ignored because they are unsavory. In his view, Republican politicians have a track record for saying the right thing about spending and doing something else, and Democrats all too often have said the wrong thing and done it.
Stacked around the living room and office in his Clayton home are books on history, all kinds of almanacs and an array of reports on the economy - research and fodder for his ads. Empty margins are a rarity. Most have been scribbled full of notes, and the rest of the words are marked by highlighters. There are a couple framed pictures of Poole's favorite president, Abraham Lincoln: "He's the only one who gave a damn about anyone other than himself," Poole said.
'A few things missing'
Poole's most recent ad, which he researched on his own, begins with the words "'Damn it!' Exclaimed the President!" The quote is attributed to Ronald Reagan and apparently came in reaction to finding out that he was being left $58 billion budget deficit by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. Poole's ad proceeds to etch out the legacy of debt left by Dwight D. Eisenhower and every president since .
At the end of the ad, Poole writes that anyone who believes that a change in leadership or a few policies will be good, "there will have to be another word added to the dictionary. Stupid and ignorant will not describe the person."
To bolster his claim that Republicans have done their share of excess spending, Poole ties debt to jobs created during each presidency from Eisenhower to George W. Bush to generate a "cost per job" figure.
Sean Mulholland, an economics professor at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, said he is sympathetic to many of Poole's underlying claims - especially the assertion that Republicans and Democrats have both driven up the national debt - but sees the cost per job calculation as "extremely odd" because the two are essentially unrelated. Mulholland also sees a few things missing from the arguments presented in the ad.
One is that there is no mention of Congress. Because lawmakers are responsible for passing a budget - though they conspicuously have not done so of late - Mulholland said they cannot be ignored when analyzing historical debt and spending figures.
Also, a president should not necessarily be given credit for jobs created or debt incurred during the years they hold the office, Mulholland said, as many other factors affect the economy and the president's reach is more limited than people realize.
"I often ask my students, 'Who put a man on the moon?'" Mulholland said. "Everyone says Kennedy, but he was dead in 1969. The point is, you need someone to put ideas out there so they can percolate through the system, someone who puts out a goal, an idea, that happens later."
Help for others
The ad cost Poole about $7,700.Why spend the money?
"It may be a part of a guilty conscience," Poole said. "Our ancestors, some of them, about half were slaveholders, and half were poor dirt farmers."
In his youth, Poole said he turned a blind eye when the Ku Klux Klan roared through his hometown committing "all kinds of evils."
But that changed after World War II. He was stationed away from combat in "Hawaii, that paradise," and when he returned home, Poole said he was a changed man. He didn't start placing ads until the late 1960s - first against the Klan and then the Vietnam War. One said: "We don't give a damn that Vietnamese people bleed, burn, suffer, and die the same as Americans."
More recently he railed against waterboarding and torture with ads and by helping to sponsor - along with the Duke Human Rights Center - the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.
Money for the ads and other causes he holds dear comes a life time of work. He started in construction as a laborer and plumber, built his own business and eventually started making land deals.
Since then he has paid for new water and sanitation systems for a Cambodian village devastated during the Vietnam War as well as other causes there and in Nicaragua. Close to home he is a key supporter of a Smithfield shelter for abused women and their children.
Keri Christensen, who runs the shelter, Harbor of Johnston County, remembers the first time she met Poole. He walked into her office and said he was going to build a house for her shelter. She thanked him and asked why he wanted to help. He told her he had met a fleeing woman and followed with a sentence she said is emblematic of his personality.
"He said, 'You know, they say the man is king of the castle, but I want to know what's in it for the woman when the man acts like that?'" Christensen said.
But he's well aware that his money can't fix everything and that he can't make people change. All he can do is put information before them. That's all he was trying to accomplish with his August ad.
He offers nothing approaching an exact solution to the country's debt, he said, but knows pain is inevitable. He said a real solution means massive cuts to the Department of Defense, limits on healthcare spending and medical treatments, maybe even ending entire departments.
"People need to take a close look," he said. "They need to figure out what that would mean."
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.