The negative campaign season is upon us. Republicans and Democrats are geared up and ready to takes shots at each other. I’ve never really had a problem with negative campaigning in principle. I think it’s perfectly relevant to have one candidate point out where the other’s actions have gone against his past or present promises and stated positions. There’s a fine line when you get into the personal lives, but if a candidate says one thing and acts quite differently, it could be fair game.

Having said that, I’m uncomfortable with some of the new negative ads that Republicans are putting out. While both sides are going negative (again, not necessarily a bad thing in my book), according to the NY Times it looks like the Republicans are going negative on mostly personal issues while the Democrats are going negative on political issues. And given the examples cited, the Republicans are disappointing me.

For Republicans, it was the leading edge of a wave of negative advertisements against Democratic candidates, the product of more than a year of research into the personal and professional backgrounds of Democratic challengers.

“What do we really know about Angie Paccione?” an announcer asks about a Democratic challenger in Colorado. “Angie Paccione had 10 legal claims against her for bad debts and campaign violations. A court even ordered her wages garnished.”

For Democrats, it was part of a barrage intended to tie Republican incumbents to an unpopular Congress, criticize their voting records, portray them as captives to special interests and highlight embarrassing moments from their business histories.

In Tennessee, Democrats attacked Bob Corker, a Republican candidate for Senate, saying his construction company had hired illegal immigrants “while he looked the other way.”

Both types of negative ads, personal and political, can result in cheap shots and innuendo that make them wrong. “He voted against X!”, when it was just a rider on a larger, bad bill. “She looked the other way!”, when it may have been someone hiding things from the candidate. While there’s a line that can be crossed in both cases, that line is much easier to cross when the ads get personal. Looking at some of the examples, Republicans are crossing my line.

John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who is running for a House seat, has spent much of the past few days trying to explain editorials unearthed by Republican researchers and spotlighted in new advertisements. Mr. Yarmuth wrote the editorials for his student newspapers, and in them he advocated the legalization of marijuana, among other things.

Across the airwaves, Democratic challengers are being attacked for having defaulted on student loans, declaring bankruptcy, skipping out on tax bills, and being a lobbyist, a trial lawyer or, even worse, a liberal.

Steve Kagan, a doctor and Democrat running for Congress in Wisconsin, is being attacked for having sued patients who did not pay their bills. “Why not just tell the truth, Dr. Millionaire?” said an advertisement shown Tuesday.

Democrats are hammering away as well, but not as personally.

Democrats are equally aggressive in their advertisements, going after Republicans on votes, ties to campaign contributors and, in the case of challengers, their own personal foibles. In one Democratic advertisement, the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff is shown in shadows wearing a hat as an announcer notes that he made contributions to Representative J. D. Hayworth, Republican of Arizona.

Democrats are even attacking Republicans on what should be their signature issue, taxes, most recently in an upstate New York race between State Senator Raymond A. Meier, a Republican, and Michael A. Arcuri, a Democrat, to fill an open Republican seat. “Raymond Meier raised taxes in Oneida County,” the announcer says. “Meier raised taxes in Albany. What do you think he’ll do” in Washington?

Abramoff and taxes are all fair game. Even Social Security–a example later in the article–is fair game, even if I disagree with the Democratic candidate’s position.

With so many issues that Republicans could tweak Democrats on, why do you need this? That this has been done by Democrats in the past is no excuse. Part of the problem is the ceding of the high ground that Republicans have done regarding issues like spending, smaller government, and illegal immigration. Part of it was getting heady with power and allowing Jack Abramoff to start plying them with money.

Additionally, part of it is because we are moved by negative ads, even the personal attacks. It’s a sad truth of politics, but we get the ads we deserve because we respond to them. Too many folks are disengaged from the political process, so they tune out positive campaign ads when they hear or see them. But get their outrage up, and they’ll listen. If you’re going to vote, you’ve got to get your head in the game sooner than when McCain-Feingold kicks in.

Now this is the NY Times, we’re talking about, and it’s possible they’re not showing examples of personal attacks from Democrats or issue ads from Republicans. Regardless, I expect more from the party I identify with, and it looks like I’m not getting it.

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