Until recently I have been convinced that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States. I thought it would be close, but I was pretty certain it would be Obama. Now I’m no longer certain. Obama and the Democratic Party’s mandarins are feeling the same; worried!
It is axiomatic in American politics that substantive issues are not what win elections. American presidential elections are decided by two things: hot button cultural issues which mostly are not presidential prerogatives anyway. Obama is pro-choice and McCain pro-life, but Roe v. Wade (1973) was a Supreme Court decision declaring state laws forbidding women to terminate an unwanted pregnancy unconstitutional. The president has no control over a Supreme Court decision. Even if the Court reversed itself most northern, urban states would immediately pass laws permitting this procedure and, of course, women from those states forbidding it would immediately go to those that allowed it.
The second is personality and something elusive called character. The candidate who inflicts the most damage by impugning his opponent’s character is the one who will win. In American political jargon this is referred to as “going negative” through the use of attack ads. In the academic or intellectual world, where contentious debate is normal, such tactics are referred to as ad hominem because they go after the opponent’s character instead of his argument. In the scholarly world, such ad hominem arguments are frowned upon and those who use them are considered foolish by their peers.
In the political world that is the United States, the exact opposite is the rule. Issues are completely secondary to whether a candidate can smear the other’s reputation and create fear and resentment in the voter. The reason why I’m beginning to have doubts as to the certainty of Obama’s election is that the Republicans are, by far, the experts in running negative campaigns, stretching the truth and downright lying. The Democrats have always been distinctly second to the Republicans when it comes to sleazy tactics.
Daily , 30-second, sound bite video films are produced by both campaigns and run in targeted TV media markets. These ads play to the emotions and the prejudices of the voters; never to their intelligence. As H.L Mencken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”