Monday, February 11, 2008

political attack ads

The art of the political attack ad has been called into question this election cycle. On the left, the best attackers used to be the Clintons. They followed the James Carville strategy of "Attack, attack, attack." On the right, the best attackers used to be the conservative radio hosts. And apparently, especially in the 90's, that strategy worked. It helped the Clintons get the White House and it helped the Republicans takeover Congress. But something new has come on the scene this year.

The Clintons tried that same strategy again this year. This time, however, they turned their attack dogs on their own party. They released the biggest attack dog, Bill Clinton, against their strongest competitor, Barack Obama. And for a short time, it was working. Obama was knocked back on his heals. But a big oversight was made.

While this strategy has worked beautifully for the Clintons when they were attacking the Republicans, they didn't calculate what these attacks would do to their own party. Ultimately, it backfired. Ever since the height of the attacks, just before the South Carolina primary, Barack has been had more momentum than Hillary.

The same phenomenon has happened to the Republicans as well. The one who had the most attack ads, Romney, is no longer in the race. The only two Republicans left have both run a "clean" campaign.

This spells disaster for the Clintons. While their attack machine may serve them well in the national election, it might be the thing that sinks them in the primaries. Obama's positive, clean campaign looks like it will conquer the "Goliath" that is the Clintons. It's as if the only way the Clintons have ever won is with dirty politics. Take that away from them and they flounder.

But I am still waiting to see what happens in the national election. Both Republicans and Democrats have learned that when you are running against your own party in primary elections, attack ads are a bad strategy. It is only a bad strategy because the people of America have decided this year not to buy into that kind of negative politics. But will it continue when it comes to running against the other party?

Will Obama or McCain be as nice and clean when they are running against people on the other side of the aisle? When the activist liberals of the Democratic party are pressuring Obama to run attack ads against McCain, will he resist? When the hardline conservatives demand that McCain slander Obama in order to get their vote, will he give in? It remains to be seen if the "clean campaign" strategy will survive beyond the primaries. I hope it does. America needs this new political strategy to be the strategy of the future. We can't afford to return to the Rush Limbaugh-James Carville strategy of political attack.


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