State of Affairs

Jim Fairthorne’s take on the political scene in America

Negative Advertizing – A Dying Animal?

Posted by yoozur on October 24, 2008

A lot has been made over the past few weeks on the campaign trail about negative advertising. In particular, the Ad campaign run by John McCain featuring Obama’s apparent link with William Ayers, an ultra left-wing 1960s radical bomb maker and domestic terrorist. The link between the two seem to be tenuous at best, which raises why Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought it up in the first place. Obama himself has been using extensive negative campaign ads featuring John McCain and his voting record, highlighting that John voted with George W. Bush “over 90% of the time”. Obama also has a much larger war chest for his campaign than does John McCain, which he has been using to blitz key swing states with his ads.

Another key component to this developing story has been the McCain campaign’s use of the socialist tag for Barack Obama, with attack ads citing a National Journal study that named Barack Obama as the most liberal of all US senators. This tack has generated a great deal of conversation and controversy. Even broaching the ‘S’ word seems to have cranked up the already shrill political discourse in this country.  John McCain was confronted at a rally by a supporter who angrily lambasted the socialists who are apparently “taking over this country”. John quickly skirted around the question, instead deciding to talk about vote fraud. Sarah Palin was also thrust into a similar situation when asked point blank by CNN reporter Drew Griffin: “Is Barack Obama a Socialist?” Her answer, like McCain’s, avoided directly calling Obama a socialist, but Palin went a bit further than John, saying that Obama’s new tax policies were wealth redistribution — essentially socialism.

Obama’s newest string of ads, titled “The Subject” are aware of the public’s supposed distaste for smear campaigns, and directly reference McCain’s negative ads. Ironically, the ads start by saying that McCain is “out of ideas”, “out of touch” and “out of time” before talking about McCain’s decision to smear Obama.

While the negative ad campaign has been perfected nearly to a science over the past few decades, are we beginning to witness a public backlash? Smear ads are so ubiquitous, so omnipresent in the US political scene, it’s hard to believe that they will disappear completely, but we could be witnessing an important change to the nature of how political campaigns are conducted in this country.


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