Collateral damage

There has been much written recently about the potential risks of over-heated primaries. In the face of increasingly sharp attacks in the presidential and gubernatorial races, Democratic party loyalists rightly cringe, calling on candidates to tone things down. Worried that all the name-calling will come back to haunt the eventual nominee, many activists decry attack advertising and blog wars as providing comfort (and fodder) for the enemy.

History shows, however, that the hot furnace of a primary contest can have positive effects as well. By running the gauntlet of a tough race, a candidate will theoretically be stronger and more thoroughly vetted for the general election in November.

But there is another consequence of over-heated primaries about which candidates seem largely oblivious. It has to do with the nature of many attacks and the broader philosophical context in which they occur. Chris Fitzsimon's current column at NC Policy Watch, helped me think this through. It deals with Richard Moore's use of Perdue's votes in the 1998 legislative session.

The artist formerly and once again known as Prince would be proud. State Treasurer Richard Moore and Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue are campaigning like its 1999. Moore’s latest commercial attacks Perdue for the 1998-1999 state budget she negotiated and supported as Senate Appropriations Chair.

The ad says Perdue “gave tax cuts to the wealthy, pushed spending out of control, creating a billion dollar budget disaster.” An analysis by the Charlotte Observer points out that laying all that on Perdue is quite a stretch, though it is true that she voted for a budget that cut the inheritance tax and increased spending.

But the budget also ended the regressive state sales tax on food and gave teachers a 6.5 percent pay increase as part of a plan to raise teacher pay to the national average. The N.C. Budget Tax Center’s analysis showed that more than 80 percent of the billion dollar budget increase was spent on salary increases, education, and construction projects.

It is not the first time the budget passed by state lawmakers in 1998 has been the subject of a political attack in a governor’s race. In his 2004 reelection campaign, Governor Mike Easley attacked Republican challenger Patrick Ballantine for his support of the 1998 budget too, claiming that the “big spending” was the cause of the state’s budget problems in 2001.

The current flap over the 1998 budget, much like Easley’s attacks in the 2004 race, is most troubling because it reinforces the misperception that lawmakers always spend too much money, that the state budget is out of control. (Emphasis added.)

Most attack ads seem designed to pander to conservative voters here in North Carolina. (The only exception I'm aware of involves mud-slinging around tuition increases, where both Moore and Perdue want to take credit for being champions of helping to keep higher education affordable.) What we hear, in effect, are Democrats adopting the Republican agenda, slowly but surely helping to drag the center to the right with every single attack. "My opponent is one of those irresponsible tax-and-spenders, and that's why you should vote for me."

It's not just in the gubernatorial primary where we see this risky slide to the right. Hillary Clinton's infamous "3:00 am" commercial tells voters to be very afraid, and to vote for a candidate that won't hesitate to start another war, before breakfast if necessary.

I don't have an easy answer. Attack advertising works, especially when it paints the opponent as a big spender, soft-on crime, or insufficiently xenophobic. It appeals to greed and fear. But along the way, it also tells voters that the first priority of government should be cutting taxes. If that's the prime directive, you can be certain we will never arrive at the excellence in government that we should really be demanding.

Comments

It isn't just the advertising

There are campaigns that send out a barrage of attack press releases with factual errors.



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Vote Democratic, the ass you save may be your own.

Good point.

It's the whole "attack" mindset. It works for what it works for, but the real costs will be with us for years to come.

Which ones, Betsy?

I've missed that. Can you tell me which ones had errors?

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
Pointing at Naked Emperors

Well....I'm publishing a piece on that with lots of details

and interviews, so the releases I'm referring to will be out soon enough.



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Vote Democratic, the ass you save may be your own.

The most troubling thing I see here is the simple math

in the equation of cut taxes on wealthy + end regressive sales tax + pay raises for teachers = budget deficits that have to come from some other, unspecified, place. That's soooo Republican.

Those all may have been worthy thing to accomplish but it flies in the face of sanity to think it can be done without collateral damage and it's irresponsible to do it without having made those decisions first.

If the truth hurts...

Progressives are the true conservatives.

Can't they contrast without attacking?

Can't a candidate contrast (honestly) their policy differences with his or her opponent without stooping to the juvenile level that Moore and Perdue have? Watching their commercials, that always seem to run back-to-back in the last few days, one attack following another, it reminds me of the food fight in the movie "Animal House." They are embarrassing our party and it ticks me off. In my opinion, neither one deserves to win. I wish there were other credible candidates to choose from, but sadly, the only real choices are one of these two. I'll have my clothespin over my nose on May 6 as I pull the lever for Perdue. Good thing for her that the NC GOP is so disorganized or she'd lose in November.

By the way...

...I have nothing against primary races. No one deserves to be "crowned" the nominee. But again, tell us your POLICY differences (truthfully) with your opponent and forget the "tool of Wall St." and "corrupt politician" junk. I wrote to Jerry Meek yesterday asking him if he has tried or could try to step in and see if Perdue and Moore can behave like adults instead of teenagers (acutally, the way they are acting, that is an insult to teenagers!)

Negative backfire

Let me give you an example of how negative ads can backfire. In my own campaign for public office, I once made the statement, “My opponent is a Neanderthal.” The public took this as a form of praise, and he won the election handily. Instead of a black man, or a white woman, might it not help the Democratic Party to nominate a Neanderthal? I don’t know, I'm just a caveman who fell on some ice, and later got thawed out by scientists. But there is one thing I DO know. It worked for my opponent in the past, and it has worked for the Republican Party ever since. Thank you.

Keyrock

There was a flaw with that thaw

Caveman,

Have you ever considered suing those scientists for disturbing you?

I don't know if you've got a case, but this I DO know: Somewhere there's a peat bog just waiting for you to settle back down in.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
-Edmund Burke

What's really important.

I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment, Madame Brunette. I was listening to one of the magic voices that speaks to me after a bell rings on the modern device on my desk. Perhaps I have worn out my welcome. I don't know, I'm just a caveman who fell on some ice and was later thawed out by scientists. In closing, let me say that all of us must do everything we can to eliminate the burden placed on our society and our citizens, rich and poor, black and white, red-blooded American and illegal immigrant, by the onerous Capital Gains Tax. Thank you and goodnight.

Keyrock

My friend Stephanie Bass agrees

and has shined the spotlight on the governor candidates. Just wait until the general when the whole election races to the bottom of the "spend less" barrel with gobs of kowtowing to the right-wing lunatic fringe.

My neighbor Stephanie Bass agrees

She mentioned you recently while walking her dog.

get 'er done

I'm not against vigorous campaigns. But it's not just the candidates who might be suffering lasting damage from the stupid giant tractor-pull that has become the governor's race.

It's this shared house of ours called the government-- which exists to solve problems and meet critical needs, and protect our freedom. Dadgummit, people want results from their government. None of the goober candidates are the jerks or saints the ads portray. But can they get 'er done? That's what we want to know!

I think the short attention span and memory of the

electorate in general might work in our favor on this. By Labor Day all the squabbling and negative bs will be a dim memory to most voters. Only wonks like us will really have any memory of the rancor. (knocks wood)

Person County Democrats