November 14th, 2007

On Mudslinging


photo credit: kalimistuk

One aspect of the pre-election process I loathe the most is the mudslinging that inevitably occurs between candidates. This is a hallmark characteristic of politicians vying for power, and it’s downright annoying.

The war of words is a common tool for Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and the other top dogs. Instead of restricting themselves to discussing issues, they wallow in the mud with their opponents, trying to distinguish themselves in a veritable peeing contest.

The tit-for-tat sparring between candidates continues unabated. Sometimes a candidate will play lip service, asking for an end to it, but then cannot resist the next opportunity to pounce.

Lew Rockwell notes a difference in this year’s election that few notice:

All my life–and I worked in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign–the media and good-government types have called for an end to negative campaigning, no personal attacks on opponents, and positive campaigns based on ideas.

So here we have a candidate who is “unfailingly polite,” as the NY Times puts it; who never attacks his opponents; and who wages an entirely positive campaign of ideas; a uniquely humble and brilliant gentleman of the sort even Hollywood has idealized; why have the media and goo-goo’s not credited Ron Paul for at least this?

One difference in my mind between a politician and a statesman is that the former results to mudslinging when it’s personally and politically convenient, whereas the latter is simply a seller of ideas.

Jim Rohn said it best:

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. (via Quoty)

11 Responses to “On Mudslinging”

  1. Obi wan liberali
    November 14, 2007 at 5:41 pm #

    Good points Connor

    Candidates when they take the gloves off and act aggressively show a side of themselves that should cause you to question how they will respond to a crisis in our country.

    Look at the contrast between leadership and a reactionary president.

    FDR tried to reassure a nation mired in depression and attacked by a foreign power. Bush used 9/11 as a tool to instill fear and turn over power to the executive branch.

    I disagree profoundly with Ron Paul on many issues. But I do respect the thoughtful way he addresses issues and the manner by which he refrains from personal attacks against other candidates. Glenn Greenwald took alot of heat from his fellow liberals for pointing out what is obvious to careful observers, that Ron Paul is a principled conservative, something that some of us liberals thought was either rare, or nearly non-existent.

  2. Brother #3
    November 14, 2007 at 5:50 pm #

    I am really curious to see what happens…
    (referring to the commercials and radio ad’s the candidates will run…)

  3. Dave
    November 14, 2007 at 7:11 pm #

    I have been disappointed to see Romney engage in the mudslinging.

  4. Russell
    November 14, 2007 at 10:43 pm #

    Asking for an end to it is doing it.

  5. David
    November 15, 2007 at 4:04 pm #

    No mudslinging was one of the things I used to like about Huckabee – but as his profile has risen I have noticed that he is seems more likely to take some shots at other candidates as he receives more direct criticism than he had when his profile was lower.

  6. Connor
    November 15, 2007 at 4:14 pm #

    David,

    Just yesterday, Huckabee flung some mud. The temptation grows… :)

  7. Josh williams
    November 15, 2007 at 9:22 pm #

    I’ve heard it said that the the people who we hate the most, are those who are most like us.

    E.g. Protestant versus Catholic, Jew v.s. Christian, Sunni v.s. Shiia, or Nephite v.s. Lamanite…..An outside observer might say that; (and he’d be right) “you people are arguing for no good reason!”

    Mudslinging is a form of the fallacy of “Argumentem ad Hominem.”

    Ad Hominem arguments are incorrect for two reasons. First, They are irrelevant; they do not address the validity of your opponent’s previous statements. By slinging mud, you are tacitly implying that you can find nothing wrong with all your opponent’s arguments; you have decided to attack their character instead.

    Note: On the other hand, politicians these days hardly ever address their opponent’s previous arguments. If they could get away with it, they wouldn’t even mention the existence of their opponent.

    Secondly, you are in a sense, calling your opponent a liar, when their credibility or competence is NOT the subject of debate. Ad Hominem arguments are only valid, for example, during a trial or hearing, when the credibility of a witness is in question. And only if they are specific in nature.(e.g. “the witness is not a doctor…”)

    Using Ad Hominem won’t earn you a spot on your high school debate team.

    Nevertheless, almost everyone has used such uncalled-for personal attacks from one time or another, and most people know next to nothing about logic or proper debate. Politicians only use such fallacious arguments because ignorant people respond to them, or because they themselves are ignorant……

    Most politicians are trained in the school of business advertising; where any argument no matter how faulty is acceptable, as long as someone out there will believe it. Politicians are in the business of “selling” an “image,” not of exchanging ideas.

    Finally, an old joke from Socialist-era Russia:

    American: You have no freedom.
    Russian: And you are lynching negroes.
    American: You have no bread.
    Russian: And you are lynching negroes.
    American: We will kidnap your Khrushchev.
    Russian: Then you will not have bread either.

  8. Cricket
    November 18, 2007 at 8:50 am #

    Heh. I am staying out of this one. I have Strong Feelings.
    Burnings in the Bosom and so on. I will watch the tennis match with great interest.

    *settles in to watch the election proces*

  9. m&m
    November 19, 2007 at 4:15 pm #

    I’m tagging you, Connor.

  10. Doug Bayless
    November 20, 2007 at 6:14 pm #

    As usual, Connor, you’ve made me think; I’m not really sure what mudslinging is. I suppose I’ve engaged in it, but I’m not always sure where the line between ‘strictly restricting discussion to the topics’ and ‘my opponents’ complete embodiment of the counter-example has now become a valid topic’ is exactly.

    For instance, last week I decided to post on (in my own blog)why I feel a specific weakness of Mitt Romney (his predilection for collectively slandering Islam) in particular is, unfortunately, the antithesis of what the nation needs right now. I did it because where I live too many people are falling right in line behind him on that issue for reasons that I find particularly illogical. But when I got done I *felt* like I’d been mudslinging instead of doing something more productive . . . lol and maybe I was.

    So – and I gotta admit it was partly cuz of this post – this week I decided to post on some of the strengths I see in candidates . . .

    One thing I thought was interesting after reading this post and gathering information for my next post, is that I was hyperaware of personal attacks by the candidates on each other.

    And it does seem to be quite true that – while he isn’t perfect on it – Paul is considerably less likely to knock a particular candidate on a particular issue whereas you can always count on the rest (in both parties) to get in some real zingers about their opponents.

    For instance, most of the Democrats are sure to knock Giuliani, Romney, (and Clinton) and most of the Republicans are sure to knock Clinton and Obama (and each other too).
    I agree with you that Ron Paul seems to consciously choose to use his time differently than that which does strike me as really admirable.

    But I’m still not sure how much of that you can avoid when part of the election process transcends the issues and requires you to evaluate a person you trust on issues that haven’t even arisen yet. It’s different than voting for a referendum, you really are voting for a person.

    So I’m curious if mudslinging is just kind of an arbitrary term for ‘taking the necessary process of personal candidate evaluation “too far to the negative”‘. For instance, would your Orrin Hatch billboards (which I think are awesome by the way) be mudslinging?

  11. Connor
    November 20, 2007 at 8:25 pm #

    Doug,

    You raise some very important issues. I think there is a distinction, as you noted, between the candidate and the voter. It is alright, in my mind, to scrutinize an individual’s voting record, personal life, public statements, etc., in an attempt to determine worthiness of support. It is not alright, in my mind, for two competitors to fling mud at each other in an attempt to win your vote. They should appeal to voters based on the issues, not based on how much better they are than the other person.

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