Mother Jones Columnist Is Absolutely Right: Negative Campaigns Are Good For Politics
Blogging at Kevin Drum’s section on Mother Jones Magazine’s website, columnist Erik Kain writes a thoughtful piece on why negative campaigns are good for the American electorate and U.S. politics. It is rare that, as a conservative, I have the pleasure of agreeing nearly entirely with the assertions made in a MoJo post. Today, I have that privilege.
I have often written that negative campaign advertising is good for politics. Negative ads are information dense and have the added benefit of being able to move the political needle dramatically. A powerful negative ad can link sticky narratives to a candidate that are often difficult to shake. A bad negative ad has the potential to capsize the campaign that releases them.
In “Are Negative Campaigns Good for Democracy,” Kain writes that negative campaigns are not a new phenomenon, despite the prevalent public wisdom that the modern age is perhaps the least civil in American history. He goes on to say that, while it is common for Americans to yearn for an era of comity that never existed, “it’s hard to imagine that such a thing would benefit voters.”
the uglier an election becomes, the more human and fallible our politicians become. This is a good thing. We don’t simply elect these people to office; we grant them vast power, including on life and death matters. The more we glimpse of our leaders’ shortcomings, the better prepared we are to grapple with their failings once in office—and the less surprised we should become when those leaders take advantage of the power they’ve been loaned.
The new universe of Super PACs, unleashed by the controversial Supreme Court decision Citizens United, increase the intensity of negative campaigning – since PAC ads are almost universally negative. While there is the veneer of independence between campaigns and supportive PACs, since they are prohibited by law from colluding with one another, candidates have never been able to divorce themselves from a friendly PACs message.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s primary and now general election campaigns, in particular, have exploded the myth that candidates can escape responsibility for a supportive PACs messaging.
In January and February, Romney protested that he should not be linked with PACs that attacked his primary opponents on their character and personal history. But in May, Romney issued a contradictory admonition of a Super PAC that sought to run negative ads that would have linked President Barack Obama to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Both incidents show that PACs can no more be decoupled from campaigns today than they could before Citizens United disposed of portions of the McCain–Feingold campaign reform law.
While I do contend with how Kain frames the argument in economic terms, suggesting that it is the impervious wealthy classes that benefit most from any democratic system, I agree entirely with his assessment of the benefit of negative campaigns.
“I am a liberal, a pessimistic progressive, and a bit of a romantic,” writes Kain. I am none of those things, but I know a solid bit of analysis when I read it. As this is Kain’s inaugural post with MoJo, I hope that my unqualified endorsement of Kain’s opinions does not do his budding career any harm.
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