Monday, September 15, 2008

Will Going Negative Help Obama?

So recently Obama released this negative ad:

The question is, will ads such as these help or hurt Obama?

Mickey Kaus over at Slate doesn't like the strategy. He has a number of points (so go read his post if you are interested) but the most pertinent point is:
Lecturing the public on what's 'true" and what's a "lie" (when the truth isn't 100% clear) plays into some of the worst stereotypes about liberals--that they are preachy know-it-alls hiding their political motives behind a veneer of objectivity and respectability.
Emphasis mine on what I think is the most important point. Politically if your opponent has lied and it is a clear-cut case, by all means make it a campaign issue. Release an ad on it. But if there is question and doubt as to what exactly is said and the issue is muddy, you have to be careful.

Ann Althouse also comments on the ad. While she thinks that it is clear that Obama got the message that he needs to focus on McCain and not Palin, she also notes:
I hate lies, but I also hate the overuse of the word "lie." Don't say lie if you just mean exaggeration or saying one thing and leaving out something else. Now, what exactly was the lie? And speaking of saying one thing and leaving out something else, Obama left out what the supposed lies and smears are. Using "lie" the way this ad uses lie, is this ad a lie?
Where it got really interesting is in the comments. Althouse's liberal readers take her to task, call her a Republican stooge, and worse. When pressed, the first example of a lie that pops up is Palin's quote, in reference to the Bridge to Nowhere, "Thanks, but no thanks." And with that example they make Althouse's point for her. Here are the problems with making Palin's quote out to be a big lie:
  1. Perhaps obviously it is once again about Palin, not McCain. You don't want to make Palin the center of attention any more.
  2. Palin originally supported the bridge, this is true. Then she canceled it. That part is also true. So her quote is accurate. Did she tell the whole truth with her quote? No. Is that so egregious a lie that it makes a good campaign topic? No.
  3. Obama and Biden both voted for the bridge. Twice each. Do you really want to bring this up?
The simple fact is that if you are going to hammer somebody for an action with a big negative ad it has to be something real and you need to be specific. Screaming "Liar! Liar! Pants of fire!" will only resonate with your base. If you are going to win an election you need to reach out to a broader audience.

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