Politics in America has always been a rough and tumble game. Anyone who runs for office is to be congratulated for putting themselves and their reputations in the arena knowing that both will be savaged by those not supporting them.
However, I think it behooves us all to be a little more subjective and a little more selective when and what to decry as “negative campaigning”.
A recent example-last fall in Va-10 Democrat Judy Feder began the campaign attacking Republican challenger Frank Wolf attacking his votes, his positions, and the fact that he was a member of the president’s party.
Fair enough. Mr. Wolf is a public official with a record, and it is not unreasonable to have it fairly scrutinized.
However, Ms. Feder had been a public official with a record of working on and support for health programs that would require tax increases, such as the Pepper Report and the congressionally DOA Hillary Clinton health care plan. It would also seem she merited scrutiny. However, the minute the Wolf campaign did so, Feder’s campaign manager began screaming “Negative campaigning” in interviews and press releases.
While I mention this campaign because it is close to home, this is not unique. Campaigns try to write off opponents examination of their records as negative campaigning. When the true and real negative campaigning occurs it all blurs and there is no real sense of outrage…the public is already inured to the charges, so it neither generates the outrage it should and just continues to make elected officials look bad.
I propose, and will use on this blog, a new standard of measuring campaign measures that has been rattling around my noggin for a while. It is the P-CAN (acronym pronounced “Pecan”) standard. It means:
Positive: Supportive of a candidate
Comparative: Compares records and evaluates the opposition in a genteel fashion
Aggressive: An evaluation or analysis of an opponents actions or positions based in assumption and presumed facts or motivatiosn
Negative: Mean, nasty, hateful, untruthful.
I think this standard is a better standard, and one that hews more closely to modern sensibilities and reality.
How would this play? Consider this series of statements by fictional candidate John Doe about himself and his fictional opponent John Smith, and I think you can see how it works:
Positive: “I am in favor of keeping the death penalty on the books”
Comparative: “John Smith wants to eliminate the death penalty”
Aggressive: John Smith is soft on crimebecause he wants to eliminate the death penalty”
Negative: You know why John Smith wants to eliminate the death penalty? Because he hates his unfaithful wife, and if he kills her he doesn’t want to face the needle.”
Why do I offer this? Because I am tired of the legitimate analysis of an opponents record being accorded the same label as comments that go into other, and often unseemly, areas.
Will this standard be interpreted differently by different people? Absolutely. Nonetheless, it still is an improvement over the current definition of “negative campaigning”. The P-CAN standard us terminology that allows for better categorization of the multitude of positions, platitudes, poses, and postures we are going to hear from candidates for the General Assembly (plus constitutional offices) between now and November…
…if that allows us to weed through them and make a better decision, then so much the better.