Sunday, January 6, 2008

Positively negative

Candidates are usually criticized when they run "negative" campaign ads. But what if the ad's message is relevant and based in fact? Steve Chapman, a Chicago Tribune columnist, says that many so-called "negative" ads actually serve a very important purpose:

It would be nice if politicians were all saintly figures who do the right thing. Since they are not -- and since Americans often disagree on what constitutes the right thing -- negative campaigning serves the helpful function of illuminating facts that a) people are likely to care about and b) the targets would prefer we didn't know.
Without the balance provided by "negative" ads, Chapman says, we'd only hear the messages crafted by each campaign to deify their candidates--messages, that is, with far less truth than most "negative" ads.
What would we glean about the candidates from watching only their own positive ads and presentations? That Hillary Clinton has unmatched experience in government and is a good listener to boot. That John Edwards is tireless in fighting for You. That Mitt Romney loves his highly photogenic family. That John McCain is a common-sense conservative.

That Mike Huckabee is unabashedly in favor of Christmas. That Rudy Giuliani will kill terrorists with his bare hands. That Barack Obama's serene wisdom would make Gandhi look like Bill O'Reilly.

Compare those blinding revelations with what we know about the same candidates from unflattering portrayals offered by their opponents and other uncharitable souls: Clinton's experience is greatly exaggerated. As a state senator, Obama's Zen-like approach to divisive legislation often led him to vote neither "yes" nor "no" but "present."

Giuliani has a history of support for gun control and abortion rights. Huckabee has changed his position on illegal immigration. Edwards has changed his position on the Iraq war. Romney has changed his position on everything.
As ten months of contentious campaigning begins, Chapman's argument is worth remembering. The next time you hear a campaign ad described as "negative," take note of who's making that claim. If it comes from the target of the spot, it might be worth asking whether it's the ad, or the subject of the ad, that truly deserves to be disparaged.

Hat tip: Rachel Blakeman of BPOTS

No comments: