Biting Back

Little stories that seem to fit together … Mike Allen and Andy Barr write for The Politico,

A roomful of academics erupted in angry boos Tuesday morning after political analyst Michael Barone said journalists trashed Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republicans’ vice presidential nominee, because “she did not abort her Down syndrome baby.”

Barone said in an e-mail that he “was attempting to be humorous and … went over the line.” …

…“The liberal media attacked Sarah Palin because she did not abort her Down syndrome baby,” Barone said, according to accounts by attendees. “They wanted her to kill that child. … I’m talking about my media colleagues with whom I’ve worked for 35 years.” …

… About 500 people were in the room, and some walked out.

Of course Barone wasn’t attempting to be humorous. He was being mean and hateful, period. What’s interesting to me is the way the audience reacted. He was speaking to members of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, which means it was not an Ivy League elitist crowd. And they didn’t just sit there, seething but silent; they weren’t having it. They bit back.

Some post-election analysis in the Greensboro Telegram says Elizabeth Dole lost her Senate seat because of negative campaigning.

Instead of fighting back with positive ads that portrayed herself in a positive light and tried to counteract the negative impressions being created of her with the electorate, Dole spent most of her money going after Hagan. …

… The final straw for Dole may have been the “Godless Americans” ad. She had actually been tightening the race in PPP’s tracking polls but much of her crossover support from Democrats fell apart in the days after she went on the air with that message, which may have hurt her perception as a moderate with swing voters.

Note the closing sentence:

That tactic might have worked in a North Carolina campaign 20 years ago. But the state has changed, and Kay Hagan is more 21st century North Carolina than Elizabeth Dole is.

In the recent election both sides used negative campaigns, but not to the same effect. Joni Balter writes for The Seattle Times,

Obama was called a Muslim — as a swearword not a religion — a terrorist, a socialist, a Marxist and every other “ist.” Yet Obama never lost his focus. His advertising pals did their best to portray McCain as George Bush’s clone. Voters found that image scarier. Eeeeeeeeee.

I think voters found the “Bush clone” charge more credible, also.

Obama’s reassuring voice and sometimes boring consistent talk about helping the middle class gave him the edge. Voters wanted a president with a few new ideas. McCain flopped around from message to message, idea to idea.

Mud, even really clever mud, looks trivial in an economic meltdown. The voters may be amazed or numbed by the level of sludge but they clamor for solutions. That is where Obama beat McCain. Because McCain offered few new ideas, the dirt became the message

I think it’s more than just “economic meltdown” causing the change of attitude toward toxic campaigns. I think people are just sick to death of the hate and the lies. Younger people in particular grew up being marketed to in mass media, and IMO on the whole they’re far less credulous about advertising claims than their elders.

Somewhere in the past week I read that a pre-election poll found that something like two-thirds of voters saw Obama as “liberal.” So the GOP worked the “liberal” line — most liberal Democrat in Congress, I think they called him, which isn’t true — and it didn’t frighten anyone. I think for most people the word liberal, like fascist, has become a meaningless pejorative divorced from any political definition. It’s like calling someone a douchebag, in other words. It defines an adversary by the speaker’s dislike of him, and nothing more.

Now, I would like to educate people as to what liberal really means and restore the term to its previous luster. But conservatives had better beware that the term conservative is going down the same road, to mean something like flaming douchebag.

But the larger point is that the country has changed. I think the Atwater-Rove style of scorched-earth campaigning has lost its effectiveness. I’m not saying negative campaigns will go away, but I think the “anything goes” days are over. I think people are sick to death of being emotionally manipulated and lied to by politicians who, when they’re elected, turn out to be really, really bad.

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