With election season just around the corner, you can rest reasonably assurred that the number of attack ads on a given candidate, both on a national, state and local basis are sure to go up exponentially as we get closer and closer to Election Day. As we all know, the shit may be flushed but the stink lingers on…

” I know it’s true, oh so true, cuz I saw it on TV” – John Fogerty, from the album Centerfield

In this day and age, most people get their news and information from television. There probably is no better medium in which to portray your worthy opponent in an unfavorable light. You don’t have to discuss your stance on a given issue, all you have to do is spin your oppponents in the proper (read, lie) direction. Although the Internet is making progress as a medium for placing attack ads, the television reigns supreme.

Since we seem to rely less and less these days on face to face confrontation in the form of debate between the given candidates, the message is now conveyed in either 30 or 60 second sound bytes. These sound bytes are often just plain metaphors for what a given candidate has said or what their stated position might be. The use of imagery is another tactic employed by the attack ad. The most notable that comes to mind is the use of a “revolving door” in the infamous Willie Horton ad by the Reagan campaign against Michael Dukakis that seemed to suggest that Mr. Dukakis was soft on crime while Governor of Massachusetts.

These day, parties from both sides have taken to having their candidate state their name and say that they endorse whatever ad they appear in. Although this has raised the level of the information being relayed, certain other sponsor groups continue to use attacks againt their opposition. This goes on , supposedly without the knowledge of a given candidate and gives them the “plausible deniability” that seem to be the rigour these days. In other words, it more like “I didn’t say it so it can be held against me”.

Why don’t we take a look and some of the methods and devices that a given party or cause might employ in using an attack ad? I’ll try and remain as politically objective as I can.

Ad Hominen Attacks

phrase applied to an appeal or argument addressed to the principles, interests, or passions of a man – Webster 1913

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Candidate A is in favor of some “radical” changes on the subject of gay marriage and how it applies to the citizenry. In this instance, it doesn’t matter whether Candidate A is for or against the changes.

Candidate B duly notes Candidates A’s position and formulates an attack ad that might go something along the lines of that if one disagrees with Candidate A’s position on the one topic then one must disagree with all Candidate A’s position, regardless of the topic.

Arbitrary Topics

Ah yes, the smudiging or dulling of a given issue. These ads might call into question a given candidates faith or beliefs or stance on such things as arbitrary punishment when no law exists to provide guidance.


Rather than state your own assertions on a given issue, it’s sometimes easier to attack your opponents.

Candidate A proposes a moratorium on the so–called war on drugs because up to now, it has been a failure. He or she asks to re-visit the issue in order to provide a more effective way of conducing the matter.

Candidate B asserts that Candidate A is in favor of legalizing drug use since Candidate A no longer wants to continue down the failed path.


A learning of the mind; propensity or prepossession toward an object or view, not leaving the mind indifferent; bent inclination. – Webster 1913

Candidate A is a practicing member of the Roman Catholic Church. The church’s stance on abortion rights has always been that it not a woman’s right to choose but that God dictates that abortion is a sin.

Candidate B takes note of Candidate A’s beliefs and their faith in the church and inflects that Candidate A will be unduly biased and will appoint judges to the Supreme Court that will repeal Roe v. Wade.

Flaws of Character

This one’s gonna be tough.

Candidate A has served their country with honor and valor during times of crisis. He or she did so because they felt a sense of duty. In the process, Candidate A performs heroic deeds, is wounded a couple of times and is awarded medals and ribbons by a grateful nation.

Candidate B, has never served in direct conflict even though they were able bodied and fit to do so. Though Candidate B will never directly come out and say it, ads are placed that call into question the severity of the wounds inflicted upon Candidate A and what he or she did with the medals and ribbons that were awarded them, The ads and articles somehow suggest that Candidate A has some serious character issues that need to be addressed.


This is getting tougher all of the time.

Candidate A comes across an old photo of Candidate B as a youth. Candidate B, as his right under the Consitution, is attending a protest rally against the war in which he so admirably seved.

Representatives of Candidate A doctor the photo that places Candidate B along side a controversial, outspoken and much disliked anti-war protestor and somehow leak the photo to the press. While technically, not an attack ad, the suggestion that Candidate B shares the sentiments as the outspoken protester is hard to miss.

Loose Associations

I think I’m starting to get into trouble…

Candidate A is a “card carrying member of the ACLU” and is proud of the work that the organization has done trying to preserve the cause of liberty here at home.

The spin doctor’s running Candidate B’s campaign are quick to depict the organziation as a bunch of people determined to ruin the country through those efforts.

It’s worthy to note, that many individuals critical of the efforts of the ACLU will abide themselves of their services if they themselves should run afoul of the law.


The bane of politicians from all parties. Once a rumor begins to spread, it can do so like wild fire. The source of the rumor doesn’t matter, the content always does.

During the on-going presidential campaign, a rumor was floated around that a certain candidate was guilty of having an extra-marital affair with one of his staffers. The rumor was quickly denied by both parties that were alleged to be conducting the affair but the damage still persists in the eyes of some prospective voters.

Again, not technically an attack ad since the party didn’t pay for but enough to make the nightly news and cast a shadow over the potential candidate.

So, what can be done?

For starters, the media (if they can be trusted) should keep an eye on all campaign ads from both sides of the political spectrum and report on the accuracy of any statements either made or implied. This would manage to keep both parties on their proverbial toes and hopefully cause them to be more responsible and focused on issues rather than generalizations and slander.

In closing, I’m sorry if some of my political beliefs were evident in the course of this w/u. The recent ad campaign by the present Administration has been viscious in nature and sometimes gets in the way of my intended objectivity. Recent articles in the so called “liberal media” have shown that the present Administration is relying on half-truths that attack the opposition rather than tout their own accomplishments in upwards of 47 percent of their ads. Sadly, my party of choice has also taken the low ground, albeit only 27 percent of the time. This provides me with little comfort as we try and address the future as a nation rather than as an individual.


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