We have all heard the line about “death by a thousand cuts,” but in the Republican primary race it is “political destruction by a thousand negative commercials.”
It is a self evident truth that vitriol begets more vitriol until a trickle of negativity becomes a Niagara Falls of hateful political rhetoric. Sadly it is not new; Thomas Jefferson was attacked for his relationship with Sally Hemmings. Abraham Lincoln was caricatured as a baboon and during the cold war many were accused of being communist sympathizers. The end result of such campaigns of personal destruction leaves all of us wondering where it leads us as a nation.
During the cold war the United States and the Soviet Union practiced a foreign policy based on the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D. for short): the idea that life as we know it could be eradicated. This almost came to pass when the Russians tried to put nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962.
In 1968 during the Presidential campaign the concept was used as a threat against the North Vietnamese by third party vice-presidential candidate, retired air force General Curtis Lemay, when he said “we should bomb North Vietnam back to the stone age” using nuclear weapons. Today the Republican candidates are practicing the political equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction. When the eventual winner drags their lacerated political backside into the convention they will be forced to do a strategic one hundred and eighty degree turn or risk losing the election. Appealing to the darker angels of the primary voter will have to be discarded for more balance, positive language and attitude.
Looking at those still standing, one has perfected the deadly skill of political defamation and character vilification, and one is a reluctant dragon forced by the need to survive to counter each salvo of attack with an overwhelming counter attack. The net result of this process is to feed the anger of a small portion of the electorate while at the same time turning off a much greater number of the voters. Yes, negative advertising works as this campaign shows, but what is left when the primary is over?
The people want a positive leader who sees the good and the happy side of life – Reagan and Clinton are good examples – so when this campaign is over will the winner go forward to the General election contest hoping the same destructive techniques will win the White House? Governor Perry said “I’m not in the betting business,” but if I were, my money would be on the candidate with the positive campaign. As the old song says “Accentuate the positive eliminate the negative…”, or as Shakespeare reminds us in Othello:
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
— Pat Gogerty
P.S. View this 1964 LBJ commercial to see how history keeps repeating itself: