GOING NEGATIVE VS. DIRTY TRICKS
A commenter asked for my views on negative advertising in campaigns.
It's hard to know when politics-as-usual crosses the line into dirty campaigning. I tend to distinguish "going negative" against one's opponent's record or position on issues, which I find perfectly acceptable as long as the opponent's stance is not distorted or clearly misrepresented, from "dirty tricks," which in my mind are not.
I put in the category of "dirty tricks" such techniques as push polls (e.g., "If you knew Hillary Clinton was a proven lesbian, would it change your opinion of her?" or "If you knew Barack Obama had funneled money to Al Qaeda, would that change your vote?"), doctored photos or video, taking an opponent's remarks out of context so as to distort their meaning ("Al Gore said he invented the Internet"), whisper campaigns based on easily disproven lies (e.g., Obama is a Muslim, John McCain had an illegitimate black baby), or advertising that conflates a candidate with an unpopular program with whom he/she is unrelated (e.g., Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton, Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) savaging incumbent senator and Vietnam hero Max Cleland with a TV ad depicting Cleland with Saddam Hussein and bin Laden). Other examples of dirty tricks are surreptitiously feeding the media fraudulent information or info against one's opponent that one doesn't have the courage to say openly; slander ("Hillary had Vince Foster murdered"); and ad hominem attacks ("Hillary Rotten Clinton, Her Thighness"; "Charlie Crist is gay"; "the Clintons will do anything to win"; "Obama isn't patriotic") that disparage personal characteristics or appeal to prejudice or perpetuate memes that cannot be proven.
That's why, to my mind, neither Hillary nor Barry have sunk to the level of "nasty" in the current campaign. Just as I think it's okay, even smart, of Hillary to question Obama's national security credentials and experience, I also think it's fine for BO to challenge her vote for the authorization of force in Iraq.
I'm not HAPPY with Clinton's raising of the not-yet-clarified connection of Barack with Rezko. I'm also not pleased by Obama's references to Bill Clinton's finances, for the same reason. In both cases, neither candidate has been shown to have acted dishonorably or illegally. But that's politics. (To raise the question of Whitewater, though, I think is rather unfair, since Hillary's behavior was thoroughly investigated and found to be legal. It was just a failed investment that lost the Clintons money.)
One of the ugliest things I've seen in recent years has been the "wink-wink" TV ad run against Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. in the Tennessee senatorial campaign of 2006. Now, THAT was nasty.
There's an interesting discussion of negative campaigning here.
As in so many things, I think it's a matter of the "eye of the beholder."
Note: Sorry I didn't have time to include many links or citations, but you can Google any reference you're fuzzy on.]