The Negative Option - Macleans.ca

The Negative Option

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Just in time for the “Dion Tax Trick” attack ads, my column in the current issue of Maclean’s defending negative advertising. Related: Jamie has a nice post about the death of Tony Schwartz, the creator of the infamous Daisy ad that Lyndon Johnson used to beat Goldwater.

This is a good opportunity to clear up a possible confusion in my argument. Even though I defend negative advertising, and Warren Kinsella defends negative advertising, and I quote Kinsella to that effect in my column, I actually don’t think that negative advertising succeeds for the same reasons that Kinsella thinks it does.

In the War Room, Kinsella argues that attack ads work, basically, because they’re true, and telling the hard truths about your opponent is an effective way of winning. In contrast – he says – attack ads that aren’t based in relevant, public facts will backfire, the most notorious example being the Tory ad making fun of Chretien’s facial deformity.

Except as Jamie points out, the problem with the Daisy ad is that “it’s specifically designed to deny the possibility of a response from the other side, because it has nothing to do with issues or even politics. It’s just a minute’s worth of “being blown up is bad.””

Exactly right. Which makes it even more ironic that Kinsella named his consulting company “Daisy”, in honour of Johnson’s attack ad.

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UPDATE: Over at his blog, Warren Kinsella accuses me of getting it wrong, like “every journalist since time immemorial”. Why? Oh, because the Daisy ad does nothing more than “tell the truth” about Goldwater. Whatever – I happen to think the ad was an outrageous distortion, Kinsella obviously disagrees. Fine; reasonable people can disagree etc.

But then Kinsella can’t resist engaging in his usual game of scattergun accusations and truth-bending. Not only am I wrong about the ad, I’m wrong about why he named his company “Daisy”. Sure, the ad was part of it, but it’s also from the Great Gatsby says Warren. Again, fine. Except that’s not what it says on the company’s website.

It’s a nice rhetorical trick: “My opponent is wrong about one thing — oh, and also wrong about some completely irrelevant issue that I have pulled out of my ass. But now he’s wrong on two things. How can you trust this man on anything?”