Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2000 / 10 Elul, 5760
The virtues of
I'M SORRY, but I'm growing a bit weary of all this negative talk
about negative campaigning. I think it's time we started being positive
about this gloriously negative American tradition.
Who says negative campaigning is negative? Don't you agree that it's
a positive force in a democratic society -- OK, a "constitutional
republic" for you nitpickers? Let's consider the principles involved.
First, it is generally a good thing for voters to be informed, on the
theory that informed voters make better choices. Underlying this
premise, though, is the corollary assumption that the candidates should
provide reliable information to the voters -- being informed with
erroneous data obviously is not desirable.
Next, shouldn't we come down off of our collective high horses and
squarely face the truth that being informed means knowing about as many
facts as possible, negative as well as positive? As participants in a
democratic society, we all have an obligation to contribute information
to the political discourse. Even if you don't accept that idea, surely
you will agree that, at a minimum, the press has that obligation. Wasn't
that one of the driving forces behind the First Amendment?
Yes, you say, but how do you combat disinformation? How do you
counteract lies? I'm glad you asked because that brings me to the point
about being negative, which is a positive. When candidates or their
surrogates are disseminating false information either about themselves,
their opponents or the issues, they must be exposed. If we keep our eyes
on the big ball, we will understand that such negative exposure is a
positive. Is it negative campaigning? Yes, but remember: Negative
campaigning is not a negative. Negative campaigning is talking
negatively about your opponent, his programs, his character, his record
or his lies. There's nothing negative in being negative about negatives.
In fact, it's a positive step toward properly informing the voters.
It is just plain silly to suggest that there's anything wrong with a
candidate going positively negative in this manner. If he is truly
interested in improving society -- and if he isn't, that's surely a
negative thing -- then he must tell on his opponent when he misbehaves,
even though tattletales are generally seen in a negative light.
We probably would not be obsessing about so-called "negative
campaigning" if we were not knee-deep in this regrettable Clintonian age
of semantic and linguistic confusion (please excuse the double
negative). However, we live at a time when words -- through misuse,
overuse and abuse -- have sometimes lost their meaning.
The word "negative," of course, has a negative connotation. However,
in the context of campaigning it shouldn't. Properly defined, negative
campaigning is affirmatively positive.
So what should be out of bounds in the world of politics? Is
everything fair in this cynical age? No way, not no how. What is not
fair is lying about your opponent, his programs, his character or his
truths -- it is not fair to characterize the truth as a lie. And while
we're on this point, let me add that I don't want to hear any nonsense
about the relativity of truth. Yes, there are gray areas, but facts are
facts, and it is not OK to distort the facts. Lying is bereft of
We mustn't call these negative practices "negative campaigning"
anymore. Carvillian propagandists have seen to it that this phrase no
longer has any meaning. The confusion allows them to avert legitimate
criticism by accusing their opponents of being negative when they are
just trying to inform voters. Henceforth, we must insist that "negative
campaigning" has a positive connotation. Instead, let's call those
unsavory practices "dirty campaigning."
What's even worse than dirty campaigning is when the media assists a
dirty campaigner to do his dirty deeds by establishing moral equivalency
between his dirty campaigning and his opponent's mere negative
campaigning. That allows the dirty campaigner's dirty campaigning to be
seen in a less negative light, and there is nothing positive about that.
So, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore join to shut down the government in
October and then blame Bush and the Republicans, that will be dirty
governance and dirty campaigning at their finest. Then, when the media
conspires to falsely blame the Republicans for the shutdown, we must
remember to come out with our guns blazing. In pointing out the lies, we
must be most negative. I'm positive about it. Anything else would be
positively unpatriotic, which is unacceptably
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© 2000, CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.