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Changing the Subject

Negative Campaigning as Phony Issue #3

by Barnabas
March 17, 2004

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Other aides to Mr. Bush, and some Republican officials, said that the attack advertisement against Mr. Kerry — who ran several commercials attacking Mr. Bush during the early primaries and caucuses — was working simply by forcing him to respond to Mr. Bush rather than to promote his own themes.
- Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, March 13, 2004

We are offended when we are told we have bad breath, but we also do something about it; the issue raised is the one dealt with. Most people of conscience, when called bad names, are indeed offended, but they also examine their behavior to see what might have given rise to such words. "What have we done to provoke that response?"

Politicians, as politicians, do not usually run on conscience. They do run partly on memory, however. In this case, when Kerry said that the Republican campaign was run by crooks and liars, the Republicans responded by saying that Kerry was not a nice person. They have a memory of Nixon and Clinton and do not want a public debate on whether they are crooks and liars. So they change the subject. Logicians call this form of fallacious argument by the technical term, "Look who’s talking!"

Public debate is not going to happen for two reasons: first, it’s invalid because it is about persons, not issues; second, because it is too risky to engage in. So instead of examining the evidence as to fact, campaigners resort to the playground tactic of calling names. "Crooks and liars!" say the Democrats. "Not nice!" answer the Republicans. "Phony issue," says Barnabas.

A debate sure would be fun though, especially if Molly Ivins and Ann Coulter were co-moderators.

It happened a second time in the same week, but I promise myself and you that I am not going to keep track of all the times it’s going to happen before November. The Republicans released their first negative campaign ad, declaring that Kerry wants to raise taxes by $900,000,000,000.

The Democrats could have responded in their answering ad by revealing how Kerry plans to pay for his proposed programs, but that would have made it a real issue. So, instead of answering the question implied in the ad, they respond by changing the subject. They raise the sanctimonious question of how long we should bear with a President who releases misleading commercials.

Substantive issues require factual research, intellectual sweat, and risk. Phony issues are preferred because they require none of them. They also have nothing to do with responsible politics.

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Changing the Subject
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