Sunday, October 12, 2008

A lesson this presidential campaign has taught us

Really it's an old one, but Mark Davis is right to point it out again: attempts to change the nature of campaigning won't work. Campaigns cost a lot, and they will go negative; and it's no big deal:

"Campaign spending is free speech. Candidates have to spend millions because they have to start running a full year before the Iowa caucuses. (Surely you know fundraising meetings are already underway for 2012.) But why lament this? Candidates ask for money, we give it to them, they run ads, and we either pay attention or not. Campaigns start absurdly early because we pay attention that early. The system works. As for the tone of ads, every candidate's pledge to campaign less negatively lasts until his chops are busted in an opponent's negative ad. Then comes the "you have to fight back" logic, which may or may not be true because virtually no one has ever failed to fight back. But, again, is this such a huge problem? Plenty of campaign ads stick to the issues, despite the impossibility of thoroughly addressing any issue in 30 or 60 seconds. Since ads are a terrible basis for making a choice in any election, try ignoring them in favor of the more thoughtful exercise of watching debates and reading multiple sources reporting from the campaign trail."

He's especially right about negative campaigning. It's been with us forever. In 1840, Whigs bashed the Democrat incumbent Martin Van Buren as an effete snob living it up in a palatial White House while the nation suffered through an economic depression. In 1800 Federalists ripped into Thomas Jefferson, calling him a radical atheist who would lead America into chaos. We survived then. We'll survive today's negativity. Don't like it? Ignore it!