Negative campaigning is all your fault
First of all, this isn’t the worst. Fer sure, this country has had it worser th’n this.
According to Mudslingers (Kevin Swint, Greenwood Publishing, December, 2005; interesting, but not the greatest piece of literature) the mudslingingist campaign in US election history was George Wallace vs. Albert Brewer in the 1970 race for the governorship of Alabama. Of the top 10 dirtiest races, the two most recent are 1983 (Washington vs. Epton, Chicago Mayor) and 1988 (Bush and Willie Horton vs. Dukakis).
And then there’s the fifth filthiest race. In 1800, our country’s first presidential campaign included anonymous, published vicious attacks against both cherished forefathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. And according to Swint, 1828 presidential candidates Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams threw only a bit less mud than Misters Wallace and Brewer.
1828 circulars documented Jackson as a gambler, a murderer, a thief and son of a prostitute who had married a mulatto. These vicious pieces accused Rachel Jackson, the partner in Andrew’s true-life, life-long, love story, of being an adulteress. Needless to say, liable laws were nonexistent.
Today’s candidates know that negative advertising gets our attention. They know we complain about it, but we listen. And they know we hear the issues that are discussed - even if it's only 5 seconds worth in these raucous ads. Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, said it well in speaking of Bob Dole’s ill-fated (and comparatively nice) presidential campaign:
“[negative campaigning] must be done extremely deftly. You have to make points that sort of challenge the idea that this president [Clinton] can really serve as an effective leader, while not causing people to be disgusted with you for saying these things, and of all Bob Dole’s virtues, one of them is not that kind of dexterity.”
Yes, campaigners and their managers need to strike just the right balance that will catch our attention – but won’t cause a vote against them.. Like it or not, it’s the way we Americans react to the elective piece of our cherished democracy.
We are unreasonable, unthinking, narrow, parochial one-issue voters. We refuse to encounter the difficult decisions – certainly hounding us in Wisconsin today. Keep my taxes low but don’t cut MY program. Health care costs going through the ceiling but it’s the insurer’s fault – and besides, don’t cut my program, my prescription drugs, my coverage. Isn’t it all government’s responsibility to care for us cradle to grave anyway?
So we refuse to hear the bad news, grapple with the tough decisions. Politics is tough and governing is tougher. We demand a discussion of the issues yet refuse to delve into the intricacies of tough decisions and honest policy differences.
The chicken and the egg. How do we interest folks in civics when we can’t be civil? But if folks aren’t interested in civics until things turn uncivil…. What then? We have found the enemy and it is us.
Tomorrow: The Mexican Solution
Jo Egelhoff, FoxPolitics.net