Those who take pleasure in denouncing the evils of negative political advertising should have spent the last week in South Carolina. they could have watched again and again the Ron Paul campaign’s denunciation of Newt Gingrich for, among other things, taking $1.6 million from Freddie Mac.
They could have seen a similar assault on Gingrich from the pro-Romney Restore Our Future superPAC (by the way, how do you restore something which by definition doesn’t yet exist?).
They could have taken delight in the Rick Santorum campaign’s ad highlighting similarities between Mitt Romney’s record on issues and that of Barack Obama, or in Paul’s stinging ad denouncing Santorum as a “big government conservative.”
Left largely unattacked were Paul, who confesses he has no chance to win, and Rick Perry, who withdrew Thursday.
There is a near-unanimous sentiment among the high-minded that negative advertising is a bad thing. it breeds cynicism. it is unfair.
In response, let me say a few words in praise of negative ads.
First, elections are an adversary business, zero-sum games. every candidate has weak points and makes mistakes. It’s not dirty pool for opponents to point them out.
Second, it is said that negative ads can be inaccurate and unfair. well, yes — but so can positive ads. An inaccurate or unfair ad can boomerang against the attacker. So candidates have an incentive to make attacks that can be sustained.
Third, advertising is not always decisive. The barrage of negative ads against Gingrich hurt him in Iowa and New Hampshire, but in South Carolina it did not prevent him from overtaking Romney. Debate performances trumped attack spots.
Behind the disdain of the high-minded for negative campaign spots is a fear that they will erode Americans’ faith in politics and government. but polls have been showing lack of faith in institutions going back to the late 1960s. Negative campaigning will persist. Those who enjoy wallowing in negative ads should fly to Florida, find a TV and keep clicking the remote control.