Months ago, I had intended to send a letter to the Reporter regarding the specter of “negative campaigning,” but the emergence of a bigger issue shelved it. Still, I think my initial piece has a message worth pondering, so I figured I’d dig into the ol’ archives and post it here:
Throughout Election 2006, we heard seemingly endless complaints about “negative campaigning.” One Reporter reader surmised that the candidates “should all be in great physical condition with all the slinging they have been doing.” Another demanded everyone to “please stop!”
True, a candidate’s first duty is to explain his or her vision for Wisconsin and answer where they stand on the issues. Which they did – for instance, Mark Green wanted to cut taxes and Jim Doyle wanted to expand embryonic stem-cell research. It is then up to the voters to determine whose positions are more effective and honest.
But beyond that, our ideas toward “negative campaigning” are wrong. Obviously, candidates musn’t lie about their opponents. But isn’t strong moral character the first quality we should demand of our leaders? Of course it is. Whether or not our leaders engage in unethical is a fully relevant question; indeed, a necessary question. Example: If Candidate A takes bribes for policy decisions, Candidate B must bring it to our attention. Such campaigning is necessary, not negative, and our sole criteria for judging such ads should be, “Is it true?”
I believe our disdain for the ugly side of politics stems, in part, from laziness. We can’t be bothered to take the time to get all the facts; we have more “me time” if we just assume they’re all corrupt. But it isn’t true. Sure, no party is without closet skeletons, and no candidate is perfect, but that’s a far cry from saying they’re all the same. Often there truly are serious ethical differences, and as American voters it is our duty to root them out. As Benjamin Franklin said, America has “a Republic…if you can keep it.”