Every election season we are told that the attacks on opponents are nastier than ever before. Reason TV brings us a little historical perspective:
Have this year’s negative political ads really “taken dirty to a whole new level, as CNN’s Anderson Cooper frets? Is a “return to civility…a relic of a bygone era,” as President Barack Obama laments?
Er, not exactly.
If anonymous political speech, the other widely decried villain of this political season, helped found the United States, attack ads are as American as apple pie. If you fancy yourself a patriot or a history buff, you will most certainly approve this message, which is taken from statements made by, for, and against the nation’s founders.
A few years ago, the late William Safire wrote Scandalmonger, a historical novel about the brutal coverage of scandals involving Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and others in pamphlets and newspapers in the 1790s.
A lively media with many outlets and strong, sometimes personal attacks have been part of our culture since the United States was founded. The claim made by one candidate about another is supposed to illuminate character issues or show where a candidate truly stands. Frequently these attacks are exaggerated. Sometimes they are backed up by substance, sometimes they are just outright lies.
What matters in American elections is the ideas that candidates support. Our Founding Fathers were able to agree on the principle embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but still had disagreements strong enough to tear each other apart in subsequent elections.
What matters in this election is the fundamental disagreement over the role, power and size of government between the Democrat establishment and the Tea Party movement in the Republican Party. The rest is political theater that been an American tradition for more than 200 years.