Thursday, 28 September 2006

Good negativity

Ninety percent of all ads in the current American election campaign are negative.

I stumbled across this little tidbit yesterday in a post on an American blog that was complaining about the negativity. Which was itself a negative post, ironically enough. It's impossible to decry something without being negative.

And that is as good a demonstration as any that not all negativity is bad. Nobody can be positive about child rape, for instance, at least not anybody you would want to have sitting in your living room.

Negativity can also be a powerful teaching and communication tool. Any teacher worth her salt knows that contrast is indispensable in teaching new concepts. One of the best ways to help students understand what something IS is by showing them at the same time what it ISN'T.

This can be done very legitimately in a political ad too. "My opponent advocates this. I think it's a bad idea for reasons X, Y, Z, and this is what I propose instead and why." This I would consider good negativity. It provides a positive counterbalance.

The problem arises when there is no positive message at all, when the ad consists uniquely of criticism or mudslinging. This caters to our lower instincts and to them only and contributes in every way to the lowering of the political debate. I heartily oppose it.

And that too, is good negativity.

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Fern said...

Along the lines of the "good" negative campaign ad, there is a really well done negative ad about Jerry Brown who is running for California Attorney General. It basically is a list, without commentary, of all the really horrendous things Brown has done or said in his long political career in California. The one that sticks out the most in my mind is that he called the execution of a serial murderer (after a fair trial and numerous appeals) worse than a "nazi style execution."

Janet said...

It was at least a fair ad.

Equally devastating can be running a series of video clips of political promises never kept.

There have been a number of negative ads in Canada that have literally blown up in the faces of the parties that ran them and contributed mightily to their defeat. The Conservatives shot themselves in the foot with one that seemed to mock Chretien's crooked mouth (a result of childhood polio) a few years back. When he shrugged it off with the quip, "At least I don't talk out of both sides of my mouth," they were cooked.

And then last year the Liberals came up with a humdinger about Soldiers. In our cities. With guns. We are not making this up. That one managed to enrage the entire military, as well as anyone even vaguely sympathetic to them (a much larger percentage than formerly) and drew uncomfortable attention to the fact that they had seriously distorted the Conservatives' position. "We are not making this up" has become a byword in Canada, used whenever you want to lampoon an idiotic position. Comedians had a field day.

So here in Canada, at least, you have to make sure you don't try to push it too far. It can be fatal politically.


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