Although I don’t watch much television, I do watch the evening news, and sometimes leave on the local news after that. And when I wake up, I listen to the morning headlines and weather as I get dressed. But even in this small window of time I hear plenty of campaign ads. And all of them, almost without exception, are negative. Virtually none of them give real positions on issues by the candidate (I did hear one this morning by a candidate saying he supports “a woman’s right to choose”, but that’s the rare exception). They involve tearing down the other candidate. I even heard an ad for a Republican candidate showing nasty clips of both Clinton and Trump, thereby disassociating himself with Trump—a tactic that may or may not be good in November.
While negative campaigning has been ubiquitous for a while, it now seems omnipresent. I date the modern era of Negative Campaigning from the famous anti-Goldwater “daisy” ad promulgated by LBJ supporters in 1964. If you haven’t seen it, implying that a Goldwater Presidency would lead to nuclear war, have a look. It was remarkably effective (be sure you put the sound on).
And I wonder what it is that has caused this change. Perhaps research has shown that negative ads are more effective than positive ones. Perhaps politics is simply getting more divisive, though I don’t really know why. Perhaps both are true. But what is clear is that the tenor of our political discourse is debased: we are reduced to calling each other names. And that’s not how democracy is supposed to function. It’s sad, and it’s why I don’t watch debates.
Examples can be found on both Right- and Left-wing sites. Because I lean Left, I particularly hate negativity among liberals. Here, for example, is the headline on today’s HuffPo page: a site that reeks of brimstone:
“Monster”? HuffPo is descending into complete, abject lunacy, not only calling Trump a “monster” but using any accusation, real or simply out there, that can to defeat him. The thing is, Trump’s already lost (if you don’t think so, email me and we’ll make a bet), and those who read the site aren’t going to vote for him anyway. In fact, HuffPo resembles my Facebook page, full of good liberal “friends” who can’t stop posting about Trump’s latest perfidies—especially his sexual behavior. I don’t quite get it.