Sunday, February 19, 2012

What Does "Going Negative" Mean?

I would like to argue for the adoption of a new definition of "going negative" in a political contest, as the one under which we currently operate is insufficient.  My definition would go something like this:  "Going negative, or negative advertising, is the act of lying about an opponent's record, history, or accomplishments."  That's all.  The key component of the definition is that it has to be a lie. 

Why is a new definition needed?  Because the one we have--which in my opinion boils down to "that which is not positive"--conditions us to the false choice.  That is, if a candidate isn't talking about his own record, his own long marriage and wonderful family, his own gauzy vision of America--everything else is negative.  Pointing out votes that an opponent has cast, positions he has held, choices he has made in his personal life--this is not negative.  This is the act of ensuring that voters are familiar with a candidate in a holistic way, not just the wonderful stuff that a campaign spin machine can churn out. 

I am amused by the charges of negative advertising going on in the current Republican race.  Mitt Romney's conduct while at Bain was a legitimate question, as is his record as Massachusetts Governor and the health care system he helped midwife (midhusband?).  Newt Gingrich's temperament, leadership and policy ADD were also fair game.  As is Rick Santorum's less than flinty approach to government spending and his tendency to (as all legislators do--see Newt G.) take personal credit for legislation that emanated from a body in which he happened to be a member.  There is a reality about each of these men's past that there is nothing wrong with raising.  In fact--doing so is required and essential to a thorough vetting of their fitness for office.

What then, do I believe constitutes going negative? 
  • Lying about an opponent.  I resort here to the "reasonable man" theory of lying, which states that if a Mark I Mod 0 average guy would think the statement is a lie, then it is.  This does not include what one candidate infers about another based on stances/votes/positions that are truthfully reported.
  • The public or private fanning of elicit, unproven, or unsubstantiated rumor.
  • Any "non-positive" statement about a spouse, child, or other family member of the candidate--unless that statement reflects in some way upon the judgment and character of the candidate.  For example--raising the issue of a candidate's spouse's alcoholism--off limits.  Raising the issue of a candidate's spouse's un-repudiated ties to 1960's radical terror groups?  In play.  Again, the reasonable man theory applies.
Why do I raise this issue? Because the issue of "going negative" provides the media with exactly what it needs to tear down actual and honest policy differences and turn them into naked fight promotion and spectacle.  Let's not feed it anymore.  Let's begin to socialize our candidates in a manner that would suggest to them that we will be less likely to support them if they "whine" about opponents going negative. 


Anonymous said...

CW - I told you that Mitt's "going negative" in Iowa was going to be the death knell of this campaign. If he had only been patient, he had originally planned not to campaign in Iowa you might remember, but then he decided to jump in and go after Newt. Then his 39% in New Hampshire didn't shine as brightly as he wanted, then he got waxed in SC, so he went absolutely nuclear in Florida. Nope, not much interest in Mitt now from the 50% of the base that is involved in this race, but I have noticed how he is snuggling up to Ron Paul. Maybe he can pick up the support of those fanatics who make up 11% of the base. That will get him to 41% and maybe that will be enough for the nomination. He poisoned the well, and now he must drink the draught.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

When did the Republican base become such a bunch of panty-waists?

"The Hammer" said...

If you guys think the primaries have been bad you ain't seen nothing yet. Obama will have Mitt leading a Waffen SS Panzer column against a Planned Parenthood breast cancer screening facility if he thinks he can get away with it.

I share your concerns CW but "going negative" (if done right) works, it always has and always will. That's why they keep doing it. You want rules and civility in politics? Forgetaboutit.

Anonymous said...

Negative comments about one's opponent should "ALWAYS" be immediately followed with explanations of why what they did was harmful to the country and what you will do to improve the situations.
This would be a comparative analysis rather than being negative.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Disagree anon. Because by my definition of a negative comment, no further explanation would be needed. The statement would be on its face, negative.

What you are suggesting is layer and nuance on top of factually correct statements. Sounds kinda liberal to me, you know--can't trust people to think for themselves.

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