Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Positively negative

"ATTACK ads are good for you!" heralds a headline in the current issue of Reason, a magazine that pitches right-wing and libertarian ideals under the guise of promoting "free minds and free markets."

We point out this seemingly oxymoronic declaration in connection with news that nearly $26 million already has been spent on television advertising in the Michigan governor's race - and the major candidates are just getting warmed up.

Republican challenger Dick DeVos has put out $17.9 million, much of it his own money, on TV ads to hack away at Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the incumbent Democrat, who has spent $2.5 million, and the Michigan Democratic Party, which has shelled out $5.5 million in her support.

Not that they have much choice in the matter, but it will be interesting, much like the perverse fascination of watching an impending train wreck, to see just how much negativity Wolverine State voters can withstand.

Will Michiganders be swayed by the landslide of televised slime being heaped by the candidates on each other, or will they reflexively change channels just as they would to avoid annoying static?

Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom that negative campaigning is used so much because it works, we would bet that they will tune out the attack ads, registering a mental vote against candidates who run them.

Many people who are not politically astute say they look to TV spots during the campaign season as a way to learn about the candidates. But as an official of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which reported the latest campaign totals, explained, the ads are anything but educational.

"Michigan voters have been subjected to an unprecedented barrage of shallow messages designed to drive an emotional reaction to the candidates," Rich Robinson, the group's executive director, told the Associated Press. "It remains to be seen whether voters will be shown enough depth to make a thoughtful choice on Election Day."

Just the opposite argument is made in the Reason article. Author David Mark contends that negative ads clearly delineate the candidates.

"The history of political campaigns shows that when candidates present clear, stark differences between themselves and opponents, citizens are better able to judge whom to support," he concludes. "When those lines are drawn sharply in harsh, tough ads and attacks in the press, it's the voters who win."

That, unfortunately, is more the modus operandi of political campaigning that has become successful in recent decades, not a valid reason why negative ads work.

Too often, attack ads present facts or quotes out of context, to present a distorted view of a political candidate. And too often, they include outright lies.

Negative campaigning is a fundamentally dishonest mode of political campaigning which we hope voters everywhere, not just in the Michigan governor's race, will ignore this election season.

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