October 09, 2006

Three Cheers for Attack Ads?

Michael Kinsley is complaining that the political ads up in Washington are all totally asinine. I haven't seen them, but if all the brain-dead spots in the Maryland Senate race are any indication, he's probably right.

Reason has a cover story this month praising negative campaign ads in all their vicious glory. Attack ads, David Mark says, tend to convey more information than thumb-sucking "positive" spots. That doesn't sound entirely wrong to me. Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" ad was the apotheosis of inanity. What did it even mean? Who's lapping that up? At least the "Daisy Girl" ad let people know that Goldwater was a kook. There's something to be said for that.

A few experts, like David Geer, say negative ads are more likely to be substantive—and substantiated—than clips of Senator Stay-Puft frolicking around with puppies and children. Or "talking about the issues" in vague, meaningless terms. But I wonder if this goes too far. Negative ads can do a lot of harm. A lot of the attack ads in this election cycle focus on immigration, and most of them do nothing but fuel xenophobia (this one's so wacky as to be a possible exception). More thumb-sucking might be preferable. Lawmakers might also avoid voting for X or Y policy out of fear of the demagogic attack ad that would ensue. Risk aversion by politicians can be good or bad, depending. I'm not sure how it all shakes out.
-- Brad Plumer 6:54 PM || ||