By Richard K. Scher
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Additional resources for The modern political campaign: mudslinging, bombast, and the vitality of American politics
So too does the entertainment aspect of the campaign reinforce the rituals of public life. Even as we complain about campaigns, we expect candidates to have them; indeed, our complaint is not so much with the existence of campaigns as the way they are carried out. Politics, after all, is a spectator sport in America, complete with the hoopla and spectacle associated with baseball, football, and basketball. ), so too does the public expect that a candidate must campaign for office. Think of the contrary situation: what happens to candidates who do not campaign?
And it was not because campaigns were necessarily "cleaner," more dignified, or more sophisticated than they are at present. In the mid-nineteenth century, campaigns were notorious for personal attacks and scandalous exposures. During the first part of this century, campaigns in state and local elections were often "bought," or stolen, by political bosses. And hokey activities, like the hillbilly bands "Big Jim" Folsom used in his gubernatorial campaigns in Alabama, or Nelson Rockefeller riding the subway in New York City, have been the rule, not the exception.
An additional complication of possible negativity results from the motives of the perpetrator. What is the purpose of the mud being thrown? Is it in fact to highlight serious deficienciesdocumentable onesin the opponent? Is it merely to attract attention to an inept or Page 18 enfeebled campaign? Is it primarily to mask problems of the perpetrator's own campaign, or deflect attention in the form of negative press away from himself and onto an opponent? Is the negative campaign merely a result of cruelty or the selection of an inappropriate target, as for example when Rush Limbaugh was thought to have gone beyond even his minimal standards of acceptability by attacking Chelsea Clinton?