Criticizing Opponents: Negative Campaigning
However appealing the prospect may appear on a theoretical level, election campaigns in the United States are unlikely to return to a golden age that never was, in which discourse is substantive and seemly and the voter's passions are stirred only by beauty of phrase and logic. Since Washington every president has been sold to the populace in some degree. That--along with rational debate whenever it crops up--is positive campaigning.
The modern American name for public examination of the other candidate's relevant defects is negative campaigning. In its absence, any knave or mountebank in the land may lie and steal his or her way into the White House or any other elective office. Negative campaigning has been practiced since 1796, and it is likely to occur with some frequency as long as the United States holds free elections.
Depending, of course, on the way it is done, there is much more to negative campaigning than smear and slander. The advantages of incumbency in any modern, highly valued, elective office pose great obstacles to the challenger. This subject is explored in Chapter 13, but suffice it to say here that without attention-grabbing, cogent, memorable, negative campaigning, almost no challenger can hope to win unless the incumbent has just been found guilty of a heinous crime.
And what of a campaign between two non-incumbents? Must they, in order to avoid the onus of negative campaigning, refrain from pointing to each other's pertinent shortcomings? The idea is preposterous. But it is ardently advocated by many modern reformers.
Ironically, one of the lasting heroes of U.S. reformers, Theodore Roosevelt, advanced negative campaigning as both tactic and strategy. After choos-