Voters Face a Barrage of Negative Ads

October 25, 2010

For release noon Oct. 26 and thereafter (670 words)

On the eve of the 1800 election, a letter by Alexander Hamilton accusing John Adams of character defects and declaring him “unfit” for the presidency was leaked to Adams’ rivals. In no time, the words went viral. Consider it one of the first examples of negative campaigning.

Hamilton, a Federalist like Adams, had been skeptical of the second president’s economic and foreign policy agenda but had not publicly criticized him before. Although historians don’t credit the letter for Thomas Jefferson’s victory, they do blame it for a growing rift that led to the Federalist Party’s demise.

As in 1800, there’s been a barrage of mud throwing in the final days of the 2010 election. Here’s the most outrageous to date.

 In the 9th District where Republican Todd Young is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Baron Hill:  A TV ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says Young “has a history we can’t trust” because he worked for “a radical Washington interest group.” The group? A highly regarded think tank, The Heritage Foundation, one of the leading promoters of free enterprise and conservative principles. The ad is despicable deception.

In Indiana’s 2nd District congressional race, an ad backing Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly says Republican challenger Jackie Walorski “wants to eliminate Pell Grants,” which help lower income students pay for college, and “abolish the entire Department of Education.” Although Walorski has spoken out against expansion of federal programs not expressly authorized by the Constitution, she’s not on record for either position. The ad isn’t honest.

In the U.S. Senate race, a Dan Coats advertisement says Democrat Brad Ellsworth “voted with Nancy Pelosi to force seniors into Barack Obama’s government-run health care program.” PolitiFact.com, which screens political ads for fairness, gave Coats its lowest possible “pants on fire” rating for this. It not only distorts the impact of the health care reform law but capitalizes on public confusion about Medicare. The ad isn’t fair.

These are just a handful of the negative ads in circulation, and they all deserve public scrutiny because they reveal so much about the character of the candidates that resort to them. On the bright side? None meets the standard of 1800 when Jeffersonians accused Adams of being a monarchist and an Anglophile and Federalists called Jefferson a godless unbeliever and a witch.

Too Much Democracy?

Talk about micromanaging. Florida voters are being asked to relax public school class size caps that were placed into the Constitution in 2002. The cost to implement the caps has reached $16 billion, even as school enrollments across the state have slowed along with the economy. If 60 percent of voters approve the amendment, it will take effect retroactively to the beginning of this school year.

One reason Florida has so many ballot questions is that its Constitution is so easy to amend. A resolution passed by both houses of its legislature is all it takes to bring an issue to the voters. In Indiana, a proposed amendment must be passed by two consecutive, separately elected sessions of the General Assembly, a requirement designed to protect the Constitution from the whims of any given election year.

Twenty-six states — Indiana not among them — allow voters to propose new laws or constitutional language, a privilege that can lead to abuse. For example, voters in Denver will get to decide next month whether to create “an extra terrestrial affairs commission” to prepare the community for possible encounters with space aliens.

Voters in 36 states will consider a total of 155 ballot measures on Nov. 2, 42 of them initiated by citizens. By the way, Indiana’s constitutional amendment process is considered the most restrictive of all 50 states.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s Episcopal School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.



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