Mike Kueber's Blog

November 3, 2011

Rick Perry and negative campaigning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 6:44 pm
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“Cain Says Perry Is Orchestrating a Smear Campaign.”  That was a headline today in the on-line edition of the NY Times.  Don’t be surprised, Herman.  Rick Perry has a long-held reputation for negative campaigning in Texas.  In fact, his gubernatorial campaigns have been so over-the-top that I twice lodged protest votes in favor of his Democratic opponents because Perry’s ads were so dirty.

While listening to a TV talk show last night (I’ve started watching MSNBC almost as much as FOX), I heard one guest declare that Cain has no reason to complain about Perry’s alleged orchestration of this information.  Under what Marquess of Queensberry rules, the guest wondered, is a candidate supposed to ignore the fact that his CEO opponent was charged with sexual harassment, with at least one incident resulting in a five-figure settlement?  That made imminent sense, but for my edification I decided to look up the political rules regarding negative campaigning and smears.

According to Wikipedia, “negative campaigning” is trying to win an advantage by referring to negative aspects of an opponent or of a policy rather than emphasizing one’s own positive attributes or preferred policies, and a “smear campaign” is an intentional, premeditated effort to undermine an individual’s or group’s reputation, credibility, and character.  That sort of attack, while not noble or high-minded, doesn’t appear to be particularly base or improper.

But the Wikipedia article on smear campaigning later notes, “Smears often consist of ad hominem attacks in the form of unverifiable rumors and are often distortions, half-truths, or even outright lies; smear campaigns are often propagated by gossip spreading. Even when the facts behind
a smear are shown to lack proper foundation, the tactic is often effective because the target’s reputation is tarnished before the truth is known.”  This sub-set of smear campaigns is primarily responsible for giving the practice its unsavory odor, and I suggest that it makes sense to reserve the term “smear” for rumors, distortions, half-truths and outright lies.

So how much odor is generated by Perry’s alleged orchestration of the Cain revelations?  Not much, because Cain’s sexual-harassment past is not unverifiable rumors, distortions, half-truths, or outright lies.  Rather, it is a more vanilla-smelling negative campaigning that highlights the weaknesses of an opponent.  It is unfair to Perry to characterize that as a smear.

I am not, however, endorsing negative campaigning.  I think each voter needs to decide when candidates are too focused on tearing down their opponents instead of explaining what they stand for or will do.  Negative campaigning will end as soon as it becomes unsuccessful.  If more voters were like me, there would be less negative campaigning.