The Common Good

Amy Sullivan: The Difference Between Negative and Dishonest Campaign Ads

There's an election a week away, and consequently some of us are pretty busy with election reporting and commentary. But that shouldn't mean that the discussion here at God's Politics stalls. So here's an article I highly recommend by Slate's Jacob Weisberg on negative campaign ads.

As Weisberg points out, a "negative" ad used to just mean something that wasn't a positive portrayal of your own candidate, but instead criticized your opponent. Attacking someone's support for the Iraq war, for example, is technically negative, as is going after a candidate's unwieldy plan for health care reform.

Throwing up scurrilous accusations, misleading statements, and fear-mongering charges, though, isn't negative. It's dishonest. It's wrong. And it often involves flat-out lying.

Weisberg does a good job of showing that it simply can't be said that both sides are down in the mud this campaign season. Sure, Democrats are running their fair share of negative ads. But the ones who are counting on lies and rumors to win are Republicans. That's not surprising--the polls aren't looking very good for them. But you have to ask: If you can't win based on your own record or the record of your party, do you really want to win by tricking people into voting for you?

For much of the last 15-20 years, American politics has placed character above issues. Republicans have succeeded in large part because they have recognized this, while Democrats have stubbornly stuck to their debate-team mentality and tried to win with the best logical arguments and policy proposals.

Maybe it's time for issues to come back into vogue. But even if this year turns on character, voters need to decide whether they're going to judge Democrats by what they hear in these ads or Republicans for running them in the first place.

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