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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The day people stop responding to this is the day it will stop
Posted by Jill | 7:01 AM
Everyone complains about campaign ads this time of year -- they're too negative. They don't focus on the issues. They don't tell me anything.

The problem is that they work. The ad still regarded as the mother of all negative ads is still the "Girl with a Daisy" ad that Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater in 1964:

If you look at that ad now, it's tame by today's standards. It doesn't mention Goldwater, it doesn't poke fun at Goldwater, it doesn't even make any claims about Goldwater -- but coming as it did on the heels of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination, it didn't need to.

In 2004, the theme was terrorism, but the influence of the Daisy ad was clear in this fearmongering ad released by the Bush campaign:

-- except that the opposition candidate was mentioned by name.

The 2004 election also saw this little gem by the so-called "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth":

The best response to this ad came from the brilliant minds at the late and lamented Morning Sedition, who came up with this still-hilarious parody:

<BGSOUND src="http://homepage.mac.com/mr.gilbert/.Public/sedition.mp3">

(Just as an aside: When I started this blog, I seriously considered calling it "John Kerry took my shoe".)

Taken to their extreme, negative ads look like this little gem from wackjob Vernon Robinson:

Now I know that the wingnuts among you are going to post in the comments about "The Hitler ad that Moveon.org ran", so I'll cut you off at the pass. In 2004, Moveon.org had a contest called "Bush in 30 Seconds" in which they invited people to submit campaign ads. At first, they posted all the entries on the Moveon.org site, and out of 1500 entries, TWO of them compared George W. Bush to Hitler. The right wing latched onto these two ads and squealed like the WATBs they are until Moveon.org pulled the ads from their site. Yet to this day, the meme of "Moveon.org ran ads comparing Bush to Hitler" persists, even though it is patently false.

In case you're interested in which ad won the contest, an ad which WAS released to the media (except that CBS refused to run it), you can see it here.

Today the New York Times reports on how the legacy of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove is in full flower in this year's midterm election campaigns:

For Republicans, it was the leading edge of a wave of negative advertisements against Democratic candidates, the product of more than a year of research into the personal and professional backgrounds of Democratic challengers.

“What do we really know about Angie Paccione?” an announcer asks about a Democratic challenger in Colorado. “Angie Paccione had 10 legal claims against her for bad debts and campaign violations. A court even ordered her wages garnished.”

For Democrats, it was part of a barrage intended to tie Republican incumbents to an unpopular Congress, criticize their voting records, portray them as captives to special interests and highlight embarrassing moments from their business histories.

In Tennessee, Democrats attacked Bob Corker, a Republican candidate for Senate, saying his construction company had hired illegal immigrants “while he looked the other way.”

The result of the dueling accusations has been what both sides described on Tuesday as the most toxic midterm campaign environment in memory. It is a jarring blend of shadowy images, breathless announcers, jagged music and a dizzying array of statistics, counterstatistics and vote citations — all intended to present the members of Congress and their challengers in the worst possible light. Democratic and Republican strategists said they expected over 90 percent of the advertisements to be broadcast by Nov. 7 to be negative.


While Democrats have largely concentrated their efforts on the political records of Republicans, the Republicans have zeroed in more on candidates’ personal backgrounds.

Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said his investigators had been looking into prospective Democratic challengers since the summer of 2005.

“These candidates have been out there doing other things — they have never seen anything like this before,” Mr. Reynolds said of the Democratic challengers.

“We haven’t even begun to unload this freight train,” Mr. Reynolds said.

Democrats are learning just how deeply the Republicans have been digging. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who is running for a House seat, has spent much of the past few days trying to explain editorials unearthed by Republican researchers and spotlighted in new advertisements. Mr. Yarmuth wrote the editorials for his student newspapers, and in them he advocated the legalization of marijuana, among other things.

It's interesting that Republicans bleat like sheep and scream "Negativity!" when Democratic ads point out things like slavish support for even the most misguided Bush policies (hat tip to MyDD for this):

...and yet they freely admit that things a candidate wrote in a student newspaper in the 1960's are fair game. (If that's the case, then LET'S go back and revisit George W. Bush's wasted youth, then, shall we?)

I happen to love this Jim Webb ad. I love it because it in no way distorts George Allen's support for the Iraq war. It doesn't even use the "macaca incident." It simply points out the facts, then shows the candidate saying what he would do differently. And I'm quite certain that Allen's campaign is crying foul -- because when you point out a Republican's failings about policy, that's negative campaigning. But hiring a bunch of guys to act as so-called "independent agents" to tell lies about a soldier's record, well, that's perfectly OK.

I'd like to see more ads like this one, because ads like this can educate a public that by and large isn't paying attention to the very real differences between candidates. There isn't much you can do in 30 seconds, and that's one reason why attack ads that play to the reptilian brain are so effective. It's easier to tap into fear and anxiety in a short time than it is to give concrete information. But this ad shows us that it can be done.

But the real responsibility for putting an end to ads that attack a candidate based on lies, innuendo, and what people may have done 30 years ago, lies with voters. As long as negative ads work, we will continue to see them year after year.
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