The Downside of a Negative Campaign

  In a previous blog, The CamPAIN, I commented on the presidential campaigns spinning out of control – and with all of the spin doctors (both the campaign spokes people and the media talk show hosts), the imagery of campaigns spinning out of control is a most appropriate one.

One event which caught my attention was McCain’s own supporters booing him when he tried to defend speaking respectfully about Obama.  The negative irony of the very people claiming McCain is the candidate they would follow, booing him when he tries to the lead them should not be lost on anyone. 

Booing their own candidate is a natural result of a negative campaign, for the negative campaign is not so much about getting passionate for your candidate as it is about  getting passionate against the other candidate.  The passion of a negative campaign is hatred for the other.     What happens in negative campaigns is that people are not so much for “their” candidate as they are riled up against the other candidate.  It becomes a hate vote.   You are not for someone, you are passionately against someone else.

I think that is what you see in the reaction of the crowd to McCain’s calling for them to be respectful.   McCain’s party base is not passionate about him, but they can be riled up against Obama.  And so the campaign aims for what it believes is the best appeal they have this election – keep the other guy out of office even if you aren’t for our candidate.  On the other side, many Obama supporters seem genuinely to be for him, not just against McCain.  Obama has excited his supporters in a way that McCain has not been able to excite his own base.  This says nothing about who would be the better president but might give some indication about which man might enjoy more positive support once elected.

Appealing to hate, which is what negative campaigns do (though they would deny that is what they are doing), has many risks.  Among them is that after the election the electorate is polarized into adversarial and antagonistic antipathies with no hope of the bipartisan cooperation politicians so like to praise.  So when after a divisive election the country needs to be brought together again, the hatred fed during the campaign takes a life of its own.  Hatred is a powerful emotion which has become stirred up during the campaign.    As the FBI webpage on hate crimes notes, “Hate itself is not a crime-and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”  Campaigns push freedom of speech to the limits, and respect, reason and responsibility right out of door.

For my fellow Orthodox, I continue to advocate tuning out all of the negativity which I personally do not think is in any way helpful to our country or to our spiritual lives.  Negative campaigns are an effort to manipulate your feelings – to create heat not light.

As I mentioned in the sermon this past Sunday, remember the words of the prayer before the reading of the Gospel:

Illumine our hearts, O Master who loves mankind, with the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Your Gospel teachings; implant in us also the fear of Your blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing to You: for You are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

We are to fear God and to fear displeasing Him.  We do not need to let the fear of a presidential candidate overwhelm our reason or our hearts.  We are to both do and think such things as are well pleasing to God.  Many of the passions stirred up in a contested election are not pleasing to God, and do not bring us to think and do things which are godly.  Let us not give leave to our senses because of the claims of a presidential campaign.   God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us.  No candidate can change that truth.