Carter and I were doing our dog-and-pony show for a real-estate group – telling them what happens inside campaigns, taking potshots at each other and generally trying to lighten up a crowd that had just endured speeches from the gubernatorial candidates.
During the Q&A, we got a familiar question: “Why can’t candidates be positive instead of attacking each other? If I was being interviewed for a job, I wouldn’t attack the other people being interviewed.”
We launched into our usual spirited defense of negatives (they work, they are generally more truthful than positive ads, etc.) But it was best said in a recent essay by Paul Begala, the Democratic consultant turned TV pundit, titled “Why We Need More Negative Political Ads.”
It’s worth reading, and it offers great insight about the genre. A couple of highlights:
“I love negative ads. When I see a positive ad, even one from a candidate I support, my reaction often ranges from bored to annoyed. But show me a negative ad—even one against a candidate I support—and my blood starts to race….
“The Founding Fathers loved going negative. Heck, the Declaration of Independence is one long negative ad….
“So the next time a public moralist starts lamenting the role of negative advertising in our political system, just explain that it’s an outgrowth of the stakes involved. As the old saying has it, politics ain’t beanbag—and a political campaign isn’t selling soft drinks. The outcome matters—and influencing it is worth every negative word or image a candidate and his team can muster.”