Negative campaign commercials are everywhere this election year, thanks largely to the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision allowing wealthy individuals and corporations to spend as much as they like on political advertising via super PACS. Mitt Romney flattened Newt Gingrich in Tuesday's Florida primary, and many commentators are crediting attack ads questioning Newt's conservatism and ethics. Such vicious character attacks are likely just a warm-up to an even dirtier back-and-forth with President Obama in the general election. Is this turning into the nastiest campaign the U.S. has ever seen?
Yes, 2012 is about destroying the opponent's image: Without doubt, we're "on the cusp of the ugliest, nastiest, dirtiest campaign in American history," says Michael Scherer at TIME. Romney's attacks are already being mirrored by President Obama's team, which has issued a tweet mocking the likely GOP nominee for reportedly transporting his dog in a cage on top of his car, painting Romney as "uncaring." The candidates seem to agree that their "paths to victory run straight through destroying their opponents’ reputations."
"The Obama campaign's humorous dog whistle"
It doesn't have to be this way: The courts have made it clear that "uprooting super PACS from the political landscape is a fool's errand," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson at CNN, but "making their deceptive televised claims vanish is easier." TV and radio stations have to air federal candidates' ads uncensored, but they "have the right to insist on the accuracy" of super PAC ads. They might lose money by saying no to "misleading third-party ads," but the public's gratitude should make up for it.
"How to tame super PAC ads"
Actually, from a historical perspective, the ads are not that bad: Don't be taken in by all the "hand-wringing," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Yes, the creation of deep-pocketed super PACs has put more ads on the air, but not all negative ads are "dirty." There's nothing inherently wrong with hitting "your opponent when he does something you don't like" to spotlight a weakness. Besides, the smears against Grover Cleveland in 1888 (over an alleged illegitimate child) and others in the campaigns of 1800 and 1860 were far worse than anything we're seeing today.
"Another round of hand-wringing over 'negative campaigns'"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
Subscribe to the Week