I’ve never understood why so many people whine about “negative attack ads” during political campaign season. To me, attack ads are just about the only interesting thing that comes out of the early campaign / caucus period. Attack ads are usually chock-full of useful information about candidates and their positions and they typically provoke or even demand a response from the politician being attacked. They also attract increased media scrutiny and broader societal deliberation about a candidate and his or her views.
More importantly, these attack ads and the responses they provoke are far, far more substantive than the typical campaign ad puffery we see and hear. Most campaign ads are packed with absurd banalities ensuring us that the candidate running the ad loves their spouse, children, country, and God. Well, of course they do! Enough of that silly crap. It’s meaningless drivel. Give us more attack ads, I say! They are a healthy part of deliberative democracy and our free speech tradition.
Anyway, political scientist John G. Geer has made a far more eloquent case for attack ads and documented their use and importance throughout American history in his book, In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns. Here’s the link to a Cato event featuring him and an excerpt from the event is embedded below.