T Nation

Honorable Negativity

A few words about the much maligned notion of “going negative” in political campaigns…

Both candidates will have strengths and weaknesses, and both of these areas ought to be fully considered by those citizens who seek to make a responsible choice with their vote. Therefore, it is the RESPONSIBILITY of each campaign to not only point out their candidate’s positive agenda and strengths, but also to highlight the negatives of their opponent.

The real main cause for complaint is deception, such as putting forward known falsehoods to taint an opponent. Thus, some negative campaigning is deplorable, and ought to be criticized to the extent that it crosses the line into deception. Of course, in reality, most attacks are neither 100% true or false. Therefore, a usable standard for judgment might be “is the message of this criticism largely true, or mostly distortion?”

For example, take the charge that Kerry is a “flip-flopper.” Most reasonable folks (including Rudy Giuliani in his recent speech) acknowledge that most leaders will occasionally change their position, and this can be a sign of an appropriate degree of flexibility. On the other hand, there are some politicians who change too often, in an attempt to gain political advantage; those of this latter category ought rightly receive criticism.

In which category Kerry belongs is a matter for debate, and it is therefore appropriate that the issue is being raised.

Now an example from the other side of the coin. Some months ago, a story was circulating that Kerry had a past affair with a certain woman. In my judgement, this would represent the kind of “going negative” that ought be condemned, on the grounds that the story is not sufficiently substantiated, and moreover, it is his private life. (I know, this latter standard is highly debatable.)

Bottom line, my point is: let’s remember that some negative campaigning is honorable and necessary, because the American people have a right to be informed. And let’s save our condemnation for where it is really earned.

You made a very valid point, and you did it quite well!