Sunday, October 12, 2008

Muddled Thinking About Negative Ads

The WaPo also gave Outlook front-page space to a Vandy poli-sci prof named John G. Geer to explain why negative ads are actually good. I can't question his main thesis:

First, negative ads are more likely than positive ads to be about the issues.

Second, negative ads are more likely to be specific when talking about those issues.

Third, negative ads are more likely to contain facts.

And finally, negative ads are more likely to be about the important issues of the day.

I can't help but note the distinction from "the issues" in the first two points, and "the important issues of the day" in the last one. McCain's ads about Obama's association with William Ayers are "about the issues," they're "specific when talking about those issues," and they "contain facts." The problem is, they're not "about the important issues of the day."

And this is where the problem is. Negativity in political ads and other political exchanges is absolutely essential, if by 'negativity' we mean criticism of one's opponent's stands on relevant issues, and pointing out the problems with those positions.

But when it involves the attempt to displace the genuinely serious issues with bullshit issues, or to create bullshit issues out of thin air, that's a whole 'nother thing.

Geer basically ignores this distinction, which is really at the heart of the question he raises.

To Geer: Dude, you're a poli-sci professor. This is your day job. Be better at it.

And I'd suggest that the WaPo Outlook editor learn to distinguish analysis that clarifies issues from analysis that further muddles them, but some things just ain't gonna happen.

No comments: