Tag Archives: Negative campaigning

Reflections on Voting

We just got back from voting in the North Carolina primary. Voting is an activity that brings back lots of memories…

  • About my paternal grandfather who claimed that he never missed an election, not even a local school board race, in his long adult life. As we face the difficult questions about how to end the war in Iraq, I think about his experience as an officer on the Western Front and the letter that he wrote my grandmother about jubilation as World War I ended..
  • Frank Church pictureAbout my maternal grandparents, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, who went to the polls every election to cancel each other’s votes out. Then the year my grandfather, the Republican, posted a sign in his yard for the Democrat, Frank Church, running for the senate in Idaho. Read about Frank Church who said in 1970, “Our long ordeal in this mistaken war must end. The gathering crisis in our own land, the deepening divisions among our people, the festering, unattended problems here at home, bear far more importantly on the future of our Republic than anything we ever had at stake in Indochina.”
  • About my mother cutting up a Nixon bumper sticker in 1960 to form the sentence “Nix on Nixon.” My earliest political memory is her disdain for Nixon’s Checkers speech.
  • About the passion I felt working for McGovern — I see the same passion in young people working for Obama today.
  • About the horrible ambiguity of the outcome of the presidential election in 2000, and yet the pride I felt that we could still have a peaceable transfer of power.
  • About the excitement of this election, that we have both a serious female candidate and a serious African American candidate for president. Much has changed in the United States since the 15th and 19th amendments extended the right to vote to African Americans and women. After 2008, when children are told they can be anything, even president, it will mean much more to little girls and children of color.

A few weeks ago, I met with my Positive Psychology Discussion Group to talk about negative campaigning – why it occurs, whether it serves a purpose. Evolutionarily, the negative is more salient than the positive to people. So for a given budget of ink and robocalls, negative messages may have 3+ times the power of positive messages. Of course there is always the possibility that they may boomerang, like the game we played as children: “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

I personally think it is better to get the possible negatives out of the way so they don’t dog the elected officials, distracting them from the work of forming the necessary compromises that go into governing. That’s one thing about Clinton – we’ve had Clinton dirty linen in front of us for so long that it is hard to believe there is any more. Reverend Wright is a test for Obama. How well does he define his own position rather than letting himself be forced into a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” position.

Benjamin Franklin portraitI’d like to close with Ben Franklin’s words at the end of the Constitutional Convention. He starts, “I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.” He ends with this plea, “On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”

I never expect unanimity in our country, but I do hope that however the election turns out, we may all doubt our infallibility, open our ears to other points of view, and find ways to act in common cause.


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