Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Conduct a Smear

With less than a week before our midterm elections, you’ve probably had your fill of negative campaign ads describing the most vile attributes of a particular candidate.

If you like the candidate, it irritates you. If you dislike the candidate, it still seems smarmy.

Have you ever stopped to analyze how it’s done?

There is a distinct pattern: Simply take a fact about a candidate and then “drill down” to a level of negativity. Here are some examples of a smear of “Candidate X”:

Candidate Fact: “I am a Catholic.”
Characterization: “Candidate X ignores pedophilia in an institution he supports!”

Candidate Fact: “I served in the military.”
Characterization: “Candidate X stood by while women and children became collateral damage!”

Candidate Fact: “I enjoy a turkey dinner.”
Characterization: “Candidate X relishes products from unsafe slaughter houses!”
The idea, of course, is to entice the candidate and his supporters into responding at the level suggested by the smear. (That typically doesn’t work out well for candidate X.)

It’s a fact of life that many activities we enjoy can be characterized with a negative aspect of that activity. It is fertile ground in the world of politics, and is a part of the chess game that makes politics so intriguing.

Unfortunately, “the ugliness” is what keeps most of us from ever wanting to become political candidates.

It is also what is so uplifting in the candidacy of ordinary citizens that we are seeing today.

UPDATE 10/29/2010:
Jonathan Karl at ABC News has some actual examples being used in the last few days of the election campaigns.

UPDATE 10/31/2010:
Sam Foster at Left Coast Rebel has a post that might be titled, "How to Attempt to Conduct a Smear."  It details another open mic incident similar to the one earlier this month from the Jerry Brown campaign in California (Meg Whitman as a "whore").  This time the smear is being plotted by supportive media rather than Democratic Party campaign staff, the issue is sexual predators rather than sexual services, and the location is Alaska instead of California.

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