"Nasty" political ads prove to help win elections

Published 5:37 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

By By Steve Flowers
It is a proven fact that over the past 50 years of modern politics that negative advertising is very effective. It has been illustrated time and again that there is a direct correlation between a negative ad against someone and their immediate demise in the polls. Surprisingly, in an inexplicable but positive change of events, negative advertisements appeared not to be working as much earlier this year. In fact, when used in this year's primaries negative ads have actually backfired on the purveyor. However, the presidential race is really just starting. Now that it has crystallized into a two-man race, the negative or comparison approach is appearing to be as effective and back in command.
In recent years the master of nasty dirty tricks has been the infamous Karl Rove. Rove was George Bush's political mastermind. He was with Bush while he was Governor of Texas and followed him to the White House, where Rove was in the inner circle and had a corner office near the oval office.
Rove is credited with destroying John McCain in the crucial South Carolina Republican primary in 2000. It appeared that McCain had Bush on the ropes going into the critical pivotal primary. The Palmetto State's Republican voters have shown a tendency to be gullibly receptive to outrageously false accusations. Rove and Bush hit an unsuspecting McCain with an avalanche of garbage, including innuendos, push polling, and pamphlets indicating the McCain had been a coward, rather than a hero, during his five years of captivity in a Vietnam prison camp and that he had fathered an illegitimate child during his first marriage. Bush went on to win South Carolina, the GOP race and the White House in 2000.
Four years later, Rove employed the same tactics against Democratic opponent John Kerry. Rove falsely portrayed Kerry as being a coward in Vietnam with what has been dubbed the Swift Boat attack ad. It was later proven that the notion that Kerry did not deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery had no merit. This ad against Kerry has been credited with reelecting Bush in 2004.
George Bush Sr.'s campaign of 1988 was the sponsor of the most racist ad since George Wallace. The famous Willie Horton ad against Mike Dukakis was much criticized by the national media, but nevertheless very effective for the Bush campaign.
The Democrats have been just as devious with ads. The most famous and effective ad in American Presidential politics was employed by the Lyndon Johnson campaign against Barry Goldwater in 1964. Late in the campaign a compelling television ad appeared. It began with an innocent little girl picking daisies in a field. The scene and background music immediately captured your attention and you fell in love with the precious little girl. Then an atom bomb blows her up and presumably the rest of the world. The ad depicted the not too subtle allusion that Barry Goldwater's temperament and volatility made him unstable, untested and likely to deploy an atom bomb at the drop of a hat.
The most negative advertisements in Alabama's history occurred in the epic titanic battle between Albert Brewer and George Wallace in the 1970 Governor's race. Wallace had been absent from the state most of his term as Governor running for President. Most Alabamians were aware of the fact that Wallace really had not been sticking to his knitting as Governor. Brewer blanketed the state with billboards from the Tennessee Valley to the Gulf Coast with the most brilliant campaign slogan, "Elect Albert Brewer, a Full-Time Governor." The ad was above board, true and effective.
Brewer led Wallace in the first primary with the help of over 90 percent of the black vote. Wallace, with his political life hanging in the balance, pulled out all the stops in the runoff. He ran the most overt racist ads ever run in American history, saying "Do you want the black bloc vote electing your Governor?" These ads were coupled with fabricated personal attacks on Brewer's wife and children. Wallace came from behind to beat Brewer in the runoff and saved his political life.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.

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