In praise of negative ads

Greg Sargent reports, citing an analysis from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, that McCain has gone 100% negative. Dog bites man.

Steve Benen, referencing the story, contrasts this with Cindy McCain’s promise in May not to go negative. Ditto.

But the implications of both stories is somehow this is inherently wrong. I don’t buy it.

Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with running negative ads. Ads showing that your opponent is lousy and awful are perfectly fine–as long as they are honest and deal with real issues.

McCain’s ads haven’t qualified on either basis. But the ads mentioned aren’t really that strong or nasty: one accusing Obama of wanting to set up “massive government” and other chastising him for his “liberal allies.” Given the record of deregulation and conservatism, and the recent bailout that McCain supported, these ads just don’t pass the laugh test.

Benen argues that “has decided to not only lie relentlessly, but lash out wildly.” I agree. But that is very different from running negative ads, and that is all that the CMAG study purports to show.

This matters. Democrats don’t go negative enough. We don’t show the terrible things that the GOP and conservatives have done. We should, even after the election is done. I would want the DNC or 527s to do nothing else but run repeated negative ads about the Republicans all the time. It’s legitimate in a democracy, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.