"We are Republicans, and don't propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion." -- Dr. Samuel D. Burchard going negative on Grover Cleveland, who nonetheless defeated Burchard's candidate, James G. Blaine, pictured, in 1884, thanks to the help of "Mugwumps." (Nominal Republicans whose mugs were on one side of the fence and their wumps on the other.)
No more Mr. Nice Guy
After a fairly decent dust-up over how much civil rights idealist Martin Luther King Jr. could have accomplished without the presidency of that old arm-twister and dog-ear puller Lyndon Baines Johnson, Hillary and Barack are now professing to play kissy face. CNN tells us that:
At a news conference Monday in Reno, Nevada, Obama said that he is "concerned about the tenor the campaign has taken in the last couple days."
Gag me with a spoon. Just when it was getting interesting! Why stop a fair fight? Do we need more stirring and ennobling rhetoric (Obama) or more down and dirty ward-heeling and log-rolling (Clinton II)? Breath mint or floor polish?
Hey Kids, What Time Is It?
People who have done politics with me know my one core belief: It is never too early to go negative.
If I don't trash my opponent, who will? I cannot trust The Capital Times to go medieval on my Leftist opponents. And the Wisconsin State Journal will not bestir itself.
When I was still favoring the State Journal with my turgid screeds, I wrote that I may have set the world's land speed record for going negative. In December of 2003, I walked the streets of the BelMar neighborhood of Fitchburg to get signatures for my nomination papers. I encountered one resident who first wanted to know the identify of my opponent.
As the filing deadline was weeks off, I answered, quite honestly, that I did not know.
"But whoever they are they're no damn good."
I got her signature.
You can't blame voters for telling pollsters they don't like negative campaigning. The word "negative" does not invite praise. The polite term is "compare and contrast." ...
The truth is, so-called negative campaigning is as old as the American experiment and integral to our First Amendment freedoms.
Harry Truman was inveighing against the Do-Nothing 80th Congress when a partisan cried out, "Give 'em hell, Harry."
"Oh, no," the President corrected. "I just tell the truth and they think it's hell."
A man ahead of his time
Thomas Jefferson's opponents predicted that if he became president, "murder, robbery, rape and incest will be openly taught and practiced."
In the 1880s, Grover Cleveland's opponents taunted his admission of out-of-wedlock fatherhood with, "Ma, Ma, where's my pa?" After Cleveland's election, his supporters could rejoin, "Gone to the White House, ha ha ha."
It was Al Gore, in the Democratic primary of 1988, who first raised the specter of Michael Dukakis' furlough of convicted murderer Willie Horton -- a legitimate issue regardless of race.
Steve Chapman in his Reason magazine article Some Positive Thoughts about Negative Campaigning, wrote:
Thomas Jefferson once said that he would prefer newspapers without a government to a government without newspapers. Given a choice between politics with no negative campaigning and politics with only negative campaigning, I suspect he would prefer the latter.
So it is encouraging that an academic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison should give the proper intellectual cover to what I call, truth in advertising.
Political scientists Kenneth Goldstein argues that:
Political attack ads, widely demonized by pundits and politicians, are instead a kind of multi-vitamin for the democratic process, sparking voters' interest and participation. ... Contrary to conventional wisdom, the more that people are exposed to negative advertising, the more they know, the more engaged they are and the more likely they are to vote.
Professor Goldstein is supported by Martin Wattenberg and Craig Brians, of the University of California, Irvine, who in their 1996 paper debunk data used in a 1994 American Political Science Review article that argued that negative campaigning dampens voter turnout.
We believe the intent of most negative commercials is to convert votes by focusing on an issue that the sponsoring candidate has credibility in handling, but upon which the opponent is weak. ... recollection of negative campaign ads is actually associated with higher turnout.
Be positive, go negative
UW professor Goldstein has written a book on the topic, Campaign Advertising and American Democracy, which is on my next Christmas wish list. It is what I want for being a bad boy.
Here is more from the politically negative professor:
Negative ads are more likely to be factually accurate than positive ads. Negative ads are more likely to be on policy than positive ads. Positive ads are a guy in khakis walking on the beach with his dog or sitting in front of a fireplace in a fuzzy sweater, and that simply doesn't have a lot of information.
To say that American politics, 50 years ago, 60 years ago, 100 years, or 200 years ago was this high-brow debate is just simply wrong. The Declaration of Independence is a negative ad, outlining a bunch of gripes we had with the British. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were negative politics. The major reason Abraham Lincoln did not use negative ads was that TV didn't exist. If it did exist, he would have.
For still more, have at this.
Actually, the John Adams campaign produced this attack ad against Jefferson in 1800. Unfortunately, there were no television stations or Internet sites back then to run it. They were ahead of their time. Now it can be shown.