November 5, 2008


McCain Ran the Sleaziest Campaign in History?: Not even close. (David Greenberg, Nov. 5, 2008, Slate)

The claims about McCain's supposedly unprecedented negativity, then, don't signify any deep truth about his character. Rather, they reveal important aspects of American politics today. The efforts to purify politics at the turn of the last century may not have succeeded in eliminating negativity, but they did erect new norms that stigmatized ungentlemanly campaign tactics—norms that remain powerful. When candidates go negative, they almost always draw scorn from the news media and often hurt their own campaigns more than they help. When McCain went after his opponent, this powerful disdain for negative campaigning kicked in, bringing out all our censoriousness.

The scorn for going negative, moreover, has been especially acute among reformist high-minded liberals in the tradition that runs from Adlai Stevenson to Eugene McCarthy to Obama—men whose successes rested on their supporters' wish for a politics free of the compromises and rough-and-tumble inherent in democracy. By introducing his campaign in a Stevensonian vein, Obama fashioned an image as one who would never initiate attacks. Remarkably, and much to his credit, Obama sustained that image throughout the campaign, even during those moments in August when, flagging in the polls, he acceded to his supporters' calls to hit harder against McCain or, the previous fall, against Hillary Clinton.

What was strange about the McCain campaign's negativity was that they went negative on things that were too obscure to be explained--Ayers & Khalidi--or too absurd to be credited--Socialist! But they never used the Revere4nd Wright, who went directly to the heart of Mr. Obama's persona-based candidacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 5, 2008 6:08 PM
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