Magazine article Insight on the News

Negative Campaign Advertising Is Part and Parcel of the American Democratic Electoral Process

Magazine article Insight on the News

Negative Campaign Advertising Is Part and Parcel of the American Democratic Electoral Process

Article excerpt

I have a soft spot in my heart for negative ads. They are crucial to the no-holds-barred debate that is the essence of democracy. In this sense, negative is positive.

Apparently, the leading Republican contenders agree with me. While self-righteously proclaiming their victimhood, since New Hampshire each has come at the other with lead pipes and tire irons.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the self-anointed "Prince of Positive," simply has decided that anything his campaign does couldn't possibly be negative.

In Michigan, McCain volunteers called Roman Catholic voters with the following admonition: "Gov. George Bush has campaigned against Sen. John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views." But is he still beating the pope?

That was tit for tat. In South Carolina, Bush backers told evangelicals that McCain's campaign chairman, former senator Warren Rudman, wrote a book in which he described religious conservatives as "would-be censors, homophobes, bigots and latter-day Elmer Gantrys."

In one sense, the attacks were unwarranted; in another, they were fair comment. Neither man is a hater. McCain was endorsed by religious-right icon Gary Bauer. Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is a convert to Catholicism.

Still, Bush can be criticized for speaking at Bob Jones University and not dissociating himself from the school's anti-Catholicism, as can McCain for embracing a Republican who thinks religious conservatives just crawled out from under rocks.

But the fun didn't stop there. On integrity, McCain compared Bush to President Clinton. The governor said he was deeply hurt and then proceeded to explain how McCain's tax cut was un-Republican, while his spokesmen trashed the senator's record on everything from abortion to veterans' issues.

Simultaneously, both denounced the politics of personal destruction.

Tut-tutting over negative campaigning has become a media mantra. Political slash-and-burn is condemned as underhanded and a sure sign of desperation. The public is turned off by these tactics, the media goo-goo brigade insists.

But it usually heeds them. Surveys show that voters are moved by fear and loathing more than affection and esteem. …

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