Sunday, October 19, 2008

Negative Ads

This morning, General Colin Powell spoke eloquently for those of us who have had it with John McCain’s shameful, dishonest, and desperate attempts to discredit Barack Obama as a person.

To criticism about his blatant smear campaign, McCain has complained that he, too, has been the object of negative ads. But let’s face it: the term “negative” covers a lot of territory.

To suggest that Obama is un-American, unpatriotic, un-Christian, or untrustworthy is to appeal to the basest elements in American society. Deliberately using emotionally loaded terms like “terrorists,” “dangerous,” and “socialist” to evoke fear, hatred, and distrust—and to tolerate expressions of disdain and violence at Republican rallies—is dishonest and irresponsible.

By contrast, most of the Democrats’ “negative” ads have focused more on the issues than the opposing candidate. McCain has, in fact, voted with George Bush 90% of the time. McCain has never disputed that statement. He did, in fact, say (on “Black Monday,” no less) that the “fundamentals of the economy are strong.” And by pretty much any standard, his behavior in recent weeks can be described as “erratic”; he’s changed course many times on issues from how to address the economic meltdown to whether or not to attend a scheduled debate with Barack Obama—or, more famously, David Letterman.

The Democratic campaign is notable for the issues that haven’t been raised and the ads that haven’t been produced. Nothing’s been said, for example, about how the pregnancy of Sarah Palin’s daughter might reflect on the governor’s attitudes about sex education. Relatively little has been made of John McCain’s association with Charles Keating or G. Gordon Liddy. For the most part, the Democratic campaign has allowed unclear or contradictory arguments by McCain and Palin to be evaluated on their own merits (or lack thereof) by the public, while Obama focuses on finding real solutions to critical problems.

I’d like to think it won’t matter after the votes are counted—but it will. The world is watching. Clips are being broadcast in China and Saudi Arabia and Great Britain just as they are in California and New Jersey. The reputation of America—already so tarnished and so negative—is forming for the next phase of our international relations—which will require cooperation on issues from the world economy to containment of nuclear weapons. The next president will need support at home to bring about the cultural shifts necessary to salvage the economy, slow global climate change, improve education, and make health care available to everyone.

Given the negative impact his tactics have had on his campaign, there seems to be some hope that McCain will learn from his mistakes and stick to the issues from now on. Clearly, it’s time for him to start doing what he’s claimed to be doing all along—putting America first.


Anonymous said...

WAAAAA WAAAAA WAAAAA. Time to quit crying and whining about hurting poor obama's feelings and start talking about real issues.

I suppose calling Sarah Palin every digusting name in the book, putting out vile pictures and videos with fake and Photoshopped Sarahs, suggesting that Mr. Palin had sex with their daughters, that Mc Cain made up his imprisonment in Hanoi, etc. is not "negative." Puleeez

You need to examine Obama's actual beliefs and plans and not be so star-struck by his fantastic marketing skills. And his people are definetly good at creating a persona that seems to sell. Having a half a billion dollars to spend doesn't hurt him any, either.

Someone should really start looking into the fairness of buying the presidency with that much money.

Citizen Jane said...

Dear Anonymous,

Wow. You really need a better spam filter. I'm stunned by the horror of the messages you describe; they're way beyond negative--they're sick!

In both parties, there are kooky fringe elements--extremists who'll say anything for shock value. That's not the kind of negativism I'm talking about. That kind of stuff doesn't deserve a response--and there's no point in talking to people that crazy and radical anyway.

But what I am talking about is the issues. I have studied Senator Obama's statements and policies, as well as Senator McCain's. I've logged onto both their web sites and read everything there, listened to all the debates, and talked with many people on both sides of the issues who have something meaningful to say.

Have you? If so, you must know that Mr. Obama is a great deal more than a "persona." And all that money? It's come from people who see in the candidate things they believe in and want to promote. I've donated money, and so have others I've talked to--several of whom say they've never voted for a Democrat in their lives.

Maybe Barack Obama isn't an ordinary Democrat. Maybe there's a reason why life-long Republicans like Dick Lugar, Colin Powell, and Warren Buffet support him. Maybe he's just got better ideas about how to change the direction of this country. (And if McCain has some good ideas, how come he's not talking about them?)

I think what's important is not so much what the politicians say but what we as Americans say: We want the truth, we want constructive change, and we want to respect one another and work together.

Believe me, people who send out the kind of trash you described aren't likely to get on board and work for constructive change any time soon. But that's no reason why the rest of us can't.

Thanks for writing, A!

idna said...

After reading your post about "negative ads", I just had to share the following article by Thomas Sowell (one of my favorite thinkers.) Just to go over his pedigree:
Graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, Master's in Economics from Columbia University and a Doctorate in Economics from the University of Chicago.

Sowell held jobs as an economist with the Department of Labor and AT&T. He has taught at Cornell, Rutgers, Amherst, Brandeis Universities and UCLA. He has written a dozen books, numerous articles and essays. Currently Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, Calif.
So here's his article:

Negative Advertising
Thomas Sowell
Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One of the oldest phenomena of American elections-- criticism of one's opponent-- has in recent times been stigmatized by much of the media as "negative advertising."

Is this because the criticism has gotten more vicious or more personal? You might think so, if you were totally ignorant of history, as so many of the graduates of even our elite universities are.

Although Grover Cleveland was elected President twice, he had to overcome a major scandal that he had fathered a child out of wedlock, which was considered more of a disgrace then than today. Even giants like Lincoln and Jefferson were called names that neither McCain nor Obama has been called.

Why then is "negative advertising" such a big deal these days? The dirty little secret is this: Liberal candidates have needed to escape their past and pretend that they are not liberals, because so many voters have had it with liberals.

In 1988, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts called himself a "technocrat," a pragmatic solver of problems, despite a classic liberal track record of big spending, big taxes, and policies that were anti-business and pro-criminal.

When the truth about what he actually did as governor was brought out during the Presidential election campaign, the media were duly shocked-- not by Dukakis' record, but by the Republicans' exposing his record.

John Kerry, with a very similar ultra-liberal record, topped off by inflammatory and unsubstantiated attacks on American military men in Vietnam, disdained the whole process of labeling as something unworthy. And the mainstream media closed ranks around him as well, deploring those who labeled Kerry a liberal.

Barack Obama is much smoother. Instead of issuing explicit denials, he gives speeches that sound so moderate, so nuanced and so lofty that even some conservative Republicans go for them. How could anyone believe that such a man is the very opposite of what he claims to be-- unless they check out the record of what he has actually done?

In words, Obama is a uniter instead of a divider. In deeds, he has spent years promoting polarization. That is what a "community organizer" does, creating a sense of grievance, envy and resentment, in order to mobilize political action to get more of the taxpayers' money or to force banks to lend to people they don't consider good risks, as the community organizing group ACORN did.

After Barack Obama moved beyond the role of a community organizer, he promoted the same polarization in his other roles.

That is what he did when he spent the money of the Woods Fund bankrolling programs to spread the politics of grievance and resentment into the schools. That is what he did when he spent the taxpayers' money bankrolling the grievance and resentment ideology of Michael Pfleger.

When Barack Obama donated $20,000 to Jeremiah Wright, does anyone imagine that he was unaware that Wright was the epitome of grievance, envy and resentment hype? Or were Wright's sermons too subtle for Obama to pick up that message?

How subtle is "Goddamn America!"?

Yet those in the media who deplore "negative advertising" regard it as unseemly to dig up ugly facts instead of sticking to the beautiful rhetoric of an election year. The oft-repeated mantra is that we should trick to the "real issues."

What are called "the real issues" are election-year talking points, while the actual track record of the candidates is treated as a distraction-- and somehow an unworthy distraction.

Does anyone in real life put more faith in what people say than in what they do? A few gullible people do-- and they often get deceived and defrauded big time.

Barack Obama has carried election-year makeovers to a new high, presenting himself a uniter of people, someone reaching across the partisan divide and the racial divide-- after decades of promoting polarization in each of his successive roles and each of his choices of political allies.

Yet the media treat exposing a fraudulent election-year image as far worse than letting someone acquire the powers of the highest office in the land through sheer deception.

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Idna,

Well, first of all, I don't think much of any "thinker" who deals in generalities and labels (such as "ultra liberal"). Anyone who paints John Kerry and Barack Obama with the same brush just hasn't been paying attention to one or the other--or both.

Secondly, there's a huge difference between "negative" ads that take issue with policies or ideas and "negative" ads that label candidates or use inflammatory labels to try to discredit them.

Honest, intellectual disagreement and debate is healthy, especially if both sides are listening to the other. Tactics like name-calling, labeling, and over-simplification range from misleading to downright dangerous. (And bringing up the non-issue of Jeremiah Wright definitely falls into the latter category.)

Anyone who wants to know exactly what Obama's history with Jeremiah Wright is should read his second book, where he discussed it in detail long before it became a campaign issue. There's no way the pastor's views in any way represent those of the candidate; Obama spent a lot of time in Congress listening to McCain's speeches, too, but that doesn't mean he agrees with him!

I attended a church for years where I disagreed with the teachings of the priest. He was a sweet old man but totally out of touch on many subjects, including education, counseling, and a few other things that I know something about. Because of old loyalties, as well as the things I found positive about the church, I sat through a great many services before I finally left in disgust. If I were running for national office, I'd hate to have someone tape some of that man's more outrageous outbursts and suggest that they represent my thinking.

This is an example of the kind of distraction the McCain campaign has been using from the beginning to try to derail serious discussion about real issues.

McCain did make one true statement that I know of, to his regret, when he said that he really didn't know much about the economy. Ever since then, his campaign has been more notable for what it doesn't talk about than what it does.