“Dr. Mel Kahn, a political science professor at Wichita State University, gave a lecture Friday on why he believes negative campaigning is essential to democracy. Kahn said that a recent study shows that there are sometimes more lies in positive ads than in negative commercials, and as long as ads are based on evidence, they help people know what’s going on in a world full of political spin.” The lecture was at the Wichita Pachyderm Club as covered by State of the State KS.
Kahn also said that since accountability is important to democracy, he was pleased to see the activation of those who disagreed with the policies of the current administration, saying this is the essence of democracy. He quoted John Stuart Mill: “Attacks and criticism make a real contribution. In other words, if the attack has validity to it, and it brings about a feeling on the part of the populace that things could be much better than what turns out to be a flawed policy, then we benefit. Because what we’ve really done is we’ve exchanged something closer to the truth for the error that we held sacrosanct before. … Any kind of policy ought to be able to withstand the nature of sharp criticism.” Also, if policies withstand attacks, we can have more confidence in them.
Kahn also took news media to task for not really doing its job, saying media mostly covers the “horse race” aspects of campaigns — who leads in polls, etc. — rather than covering “the substance of the real policies. I think a net loss,” he said. I would add that it’s not only news media, it’s the candidates themselves that don’t want to talk about substantive issues. In the campaign for the Kansas fourth Congressional district, the two major candidates — Democrat Raj Goyle and Republican Mike Pompeo — didn’t really have a lot of substantive discussion of issues. Goyle, in particular, made charges about Pompeo outsourcing work to China. But we never had a discussion about the merits of outsourcing, except for here: Outsourcing Kansas jobs. Other issues I covered in the campaign included social security in Goyle on Social Security protection, business incentives in Business can oppose incentives and use them, and Goyle’s purported tax-cutting votes in Raj Goyle tax cut votes not exactly as advertised. My articles were mostly critical of Goyle — as an advocate of limited government and economic freedom, it just works out that way — but I believe the articles examined the issues in way that other media did not.
In responding to a question, Kahn said that those who make criticisms may do so even though they may not have a better plan that would be better. Criticism of the critic for that reason, therefore, is not valid.
On local politics, Kahn said that Sedgwick County Commissioner Gwen Welshimer told him before the election that she had tea party support, but she didn’t want her liberal friends to know about it. Kahn said that was a mistake, that many people — Democrats and Republicans both — appreciate officeholders who will object to big-spending projects. Welshimer had earned tea party support because of her positions on taxation and spending, particularly her opposition to subsidy for developers. Kahn noted that the Wichita Eagle had been unfavorable to Welshimer.
Attack adds can go too far. An example in this election was the Whipple campaign that repeatedly attacked Hermanson.
Their final piece went to far, saying Hermanson supported called Old people and school kids “hogs at the trough” with a picture if Hermonson and old people and kids with mud splattered on them form some hogs eating at the trough. I believe it cost Whipple the race.
It’s sad when voters who don’t know the voting records of the local candidates go ahead and vote anyway.
Voting based on name recognition or on party affiliation in local elections, without knowledge of the record of the candidate, can have very serious consequences.
Voters get turned off by negative campaigning, but that’s when the truth of a candidate’s character is more likely to be revealed.
For it matters less when a politician preaches to a comfortable crowd. It’s only when he’s faced with opposition and must defend his beliefs or background that we see how he responds and reacts to challenges.