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Attack politics is unsettling

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Since the beginning of the school year, the College Democrats and College Republicans have been spitting derogatory rhetoric at each other. Congratulations to both organizations for perpetuating one of the worst aspects of the American electoral process: negative campaigning in the form of attack politics.

As an addendum to Bill Rinner’s column on Sept. 17, let me tell you something about attack politics: it is a perfectly rational practice but there is a fine line. When campaigning turns blatantly offensive, the face of politics suffers and it fosters a sense of distrust among the public. Clearly, the Bush-Kerry campaign has turned into a mud-slinging free-for-all. Although I do not appreciate such tactics, the behavior of both the College Democrats and College Republicans at Notre Dame is even more unsettling. I find it disgusting that the political activists of our future, here at Notre Dame, cannot refrain from tearing one another apart, thus diminishing our University setting’s environment of pure, intellectual engagement and liberal thought.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the effectiveness of attack politics. It worked wonders for George Bush Sr. in the presidential elections of 1988. At one point, Bush’s opponent Michael Dukakis was ahead in the polls by 17 points. Solution? Drive up the negatives on one’s opponent. Bush’s campaign team succeeded in depicting Dukakis as a friend of African-Americans and played the race-card if there ever was one.

Why did Bush choose attack politics? Simply, it was more feasible to focus on destroying Dukakis because Bush’s platform had nothing within its substance that would mobilize people to vote. In essence, I am saying that people respond to negative information more so than positive. I feel that negative campaigning is a clever method of incognito, a way to hide one’s true platform in hope of shirking the opportunity to say something meaningful and simultaneously destroy the opposition. All too often, it is false, misleading and unprofessional.

The long-term implications are ugly. First, it increases the malice of politics in American. Essentially, Democrats and Republicans can’t be friends because of a difference in partisan identification. Dole said it best when running in 1996 against former President Clinton, “Supporters of Clinton aren’t Americans.” Good job, Bob – kudos on outdoing yourself from your previous comment in the 1976 vice-presidential debate that “World War I, World War II and the Korean War were all ‘Democractic’ wars.” Second, people don’t like negative campaigning. Although it is effective, it promotes a general sense of cynicism and lack of trust in the government, ramifications that are unraveling for American democracy. Lastly, campaign consultants care only about one thing: winning. Forget that it decreases voter turnout. Forget that it is unpresidential. Forget that it is classless and cheap. Like the Nike motto, just do it.

The bottom line is this: I expect more from both student organizations. You both have a chance to bring the real issues to the forefront. Instead of lambasting one another, talk about the economy, foreign policy or terrorism; debate about the health care crisis, military spending or the environment. Don’t bicker like a bunch of partisan cry babies. I don’t know about you but I am tired of excuses; I want solutions. Whether you believe that “we’re turning the corner,” or have faith that “hope is on the way,” it is important for both organizations to stop the attacking one another. Really, what are you achieving?

Matt Somma


Knott Hall

Sept. 29