Is Negative Campaigning Good or Bad?


There is much maligning of negative campaigning.  The media posits that the people are sick of it, that they just want to hear the contestants discuss the issues.  Well maybe that’s so and maybe it isn’t.  Regardless of what anyone thinks about negative campaigning, it still seems to be very effective, so is it good or is it bad?  Is it a necessary evil?

The value of negative campaigning is in getting to the voter the information he needs to know to make an informed decision.  If the candidates were restricted to positive remarks, they’d never have anything to say about their opponent, and their speeches regarding their own campaign would consist of nothing but flowery self-aggrandizement, bragging about their many accomplishments and their lofty visions for the future.  Candidates both left and right would want to convince you with their saccharine rhetoric that they love children and puppies and our senior citizens.  Basically, they’d both be telling the same story.  They would promise better jobs, to save Social Security and Medicare, free health care, free education, a chicken in every pot, etc., the good life for everyone, all the while cutting our taxes.  In other words — Spin City.  Bull would be slung so vociferously and in such magnum quantities as to drown us, turning us off to the whole disgusting sham of politics.  We would come to believe nothing they say, and therefore learn nothing to help us decide who gets our vote.

Negative campaigning, on the other hand, brings to the forefront things that a candidate would never say about himself.  It cuts through the bull, often revealing what the opponent means rather than what he says.  It brings to light what the opponent has actually done as a background for what he says he will do.  It gives both sides of the story, bringing some balance.  Of course, when a campaigner dishes the dirt on his opponent, you know he is adding his own spin.  You’ll have to interpolate, realizing that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  You’ll just have to decide for yourself who has more credibility, and which story should deserve more weight.

Even negative personal information can be revealing.  A affair, or drunken driving conviction may not affect how a politician would do his job, and really isn’t the public’s business, but it does shed light on his character.  People have a right to know what kind of people they are electing to represent them.  In that respect, even mudslinging, as repulsive as it may be, has a certain value and legitimacy in a campaign.

Where negative campaigning crosses the line, is when lies are presented as truth.  When one side is losing and becomes more desperate, libel and slander, or something very near, are more likely to be used to discredit an opponent.  Unfortunately, laws regarding public figures give these twins wide latitude.  Some really despicable examples exist.  I can’t forget James Carville flailing and screaming that Republicans want old people to die and school children to starve.   A more recent example is the  “Taliban Dan” ad by Florida Democrat Congressman Alan Grayson.  This was crossing the line, an atrocious, flagrant misrepresentation of his opponent, taking his words totally out of context, the implication 180 degrees from the truth.  As bad as this was, as much as you’d love to smack Grayson in the back of the head, there isn’t really any legal remedy.  All you can do is say, “I’d never vote for that SOB Grayson in a million years.”  I hope that statement becomes a deafening roar in his district come November.

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