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Stop, you’re making me blush

Katie Boyle | Monday, October 4, 2004

While Thursday’s presidential debate was marked by the candidates’ strong differences on multiple foreign policy issues, it also recorded one of the increasingly rare occasions on which Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush, both behaving with grace, chose to acknowledge anything positive about the other.

Although introducing criticism, Kerry stated, “I believe President Bush and I both love our country equally.” Likewise, Bush said, “I admire Senator Kerry’s service to our country. I admire the fact that he is a great dad.” Were these the same candidates we’ve seen throughout the past few months?

Regardless of whether Kerry felt like snapping, “Wipe that smirk off your face, you hunchbacked turtle,” or if Bush would really like to have said, “At least you’ve lost the self tanner, pretty boy,” such personal attacks were not a part of the first debate. While the idea of either Kerry or Bush elucidating such comments on national television may be laughable, in light of the vitriol spawned throughout the campaign season practically anything seems possible.

Luckily, in this election, very personal character attacks have not been as prevalent as in years past. Now perhaps the relative absence of former President Bill Clinton’s raging libido from the forefront of national affairs (pun intended) has simply created a dearth of material for the scandalmongers.

Both candidates, however, have released a plethora of negative ads about their opponent. Usually early in the race, candidates focus more on positive advertising and their own strengths. Not so in this election – by the beginning of June, approximately 75 percent of Bush’s advertising was negative. In contrast, around 26 percent of Kerry’s ads were negative.

Moreover, many of both candidates’ ads are extremely ‘misleading,’ although I prefer to describe them as downright false. On the Bush side, for example, the campaign has stated that Kerry intends to repeal most of Bush’s tax cuts within his first 100 days in office. In fact, Kerry only supports repealing cuts for those making an excess of $200,000.

According to The Washington Post, Bush has outdistanced Kerry in such untrue ads, mainly because the Kerry campaign has been more cautious after Al Gore’s troubles in 2000. While exaggeration appears to be an inherent part of politics and most presidential candidates have engaged in this type of advertising, this year’s duo appear to be outdoing their predecessors.

Both candidates should be lauded for their relative restraint in the area of personal attacks, excluding rather poor behavior on the part of both the Kerry and Bush camps regarding the opponent’s military service. I would rather, however, that Kerry and Bush call each other names and pelt each other with tomatoes, exuding all the gusto of seniors with marshmallows at a Notre Dame home game, than view the ridiculous number of blatant lies in their advertising.

Some of the attacks simply have to be given props for creativity. At Bush rallies, volunteers have dressed as Flipper the dolphin, attempting to reinforce claims that Kerry wavers on key issues. Unfortunately, however, Bush makes many false claims in order to demonstrate this alleged aspect of Kerry’s character.

In particular, the Bush campaign enjoys bringing up Kerry’s quote, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” giving the false impression that Kerry would have intentionally blocked the funds from going toward Iraq, when in fact he voted against the bill only after the source from which the money would come was changed. Kerry also has always maintained that were his vote critical to the bill’s passage, he would have voted for it in order to support our troops.

Just last week, Bush released an ad accusing Kerry of “seek[ing] permission of foreign government before protecting America.” Kerry responded, saying the president was lying. It is unfortunate that presidential campaigns are so bogged in negativity; this aspect of the electoral process has merely served to emphasize the “lesser of two evils” view many are taking of the election.

Obviously the candidates should be allowed to criticize each other throughout the presidential race. No one is asking them to run a campaign using Barney’s theme song. When this criticism overwhelms their own message, however, it loses its effect and increases the apathy of the general electorate.

In addition, the lies inherent in recent campaign advertising, particularly that of Bush, promotes cynicism among voters. Kerry is also guilty, albeit to a lesser degree.

A man or woman running for president has a responsibility to the general public not to promote such libel. I question whether a person who does advance lies about another candidate even deserves to hold our nation’s highest office.

So, in keeping with the negativity of the general election and the candidates’ own themes: vote for the lesser of two evils. Vote for Kerry.

Katie Boyle is a senior English, political science and Spanish major. She supports John Kerry. She can be reached at kboyle2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.