Attack Ads versus Fair Game Ads

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it – even if I have said it – unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” ~Buddha

When you hear the words ‘attack ad’, you immediately think of extremely negative and largely untruthful ads that come out during elections. More recently in Canada, these ads are a year-round event. It is argued that they work in solidifying political opinions in the voters but also that they drive down turnout overall. Attack ads are a terrible component of modern ‘democracy’ which place winning at all costs over serving the public good by having enlightened, reasonable debates about policy direction in this country. Attack ads treat the general public as stupid and suggest that voters cannot handle the truth or serious, full-scale discussions about the future of this country.

What an attack ad is not is a critical evaluation of the policies and promises of one’s opposition. ‘Going negative’ does not mean taking the low road. It is great to have positive ads which outline your party’s beliefs and their promises to the electorate but it is not wrong to point out the flaws on the policies and promises of another party or the deficiencies in their delivery of those things.

Personal ads generally bother me but at times it is important to point out the poor record of a politician in doing the job they’ve been appointed or elected to. As long as the criticism focuses on the performance and not the person, the ad is not an attack. It’s an attempt to generate discourse about the reality of how well a given person is doing their job. And that is a discussion that should always take place, especially when the salary is paid by taxpayers.

In the work world, one can be fired just like a politician can be in their job by losing an election. Similarly, we may face performance reviews at work and person-specific ads are the political equivalent to this. But they again must be about performance and not the person.

I think too often critical analysis is lumped in with the term ‘attack ad’. Attack ads are distasteful, untruthful and bad for democracy as they take the debate outside of reality and make politics about partisan gamesmanship instead of pursuing the public good. I know many would consider me naive for this viewpoint but politics doesn’t have to be cheap and dirty. It can be enlightened and make a real difference in society beyond turning voters off from the whole process in general.

I encourage all parties and all voters to be as critical as possible about politics but to not be cynical or let that cynicism take over the debate through attack ads. I would even suggest those with entrenched partisan views to take a more careful eye to the actions and policies of their chosen party or candidate(s) and not blindly accept talking points or spread ridiculous attack ads intended to dupe not help the voting public.

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” ~Bertrand Russell

Conservative pre-writ,  personal attack ad on Michael Ignatieff stating that he once formed a coalition government and would do so again. This was despite the fact that he never did this and was not even party leader when what was only a proposed coalition was suggested but never realized as the doors of Parliament were shuttered before a Confidence vote could be held. Additionally the background image clearly shows the three leaders who were prepared to make a deal. None are Ignatieff.

2008 Election personal attack ad by the Conservatives on Stephane Dion which showcased an animated puffin defecating on the Liberal leader. Completely classless and without any sort of point to it, this ad was a particularly low point in Canadian politics.

Conservative 2008 Election personal attack ad on Stephane Dion suggesting the Liberal leader was out to trick Canadians into pay higher taxes on literally everything. The ad was beyond hyperbolic and played on radio and TV non-stop.

2006 Election personal attack ads by the Liberal party about Stephen Harper stating he would put Canadian troops on the streets of Canadian cities. The ad was a ridiculous attempt at portraying Harper as so interested in defence that he would militarize Canada within our own borders.

One Reply to “Attack Ads versus Fair Game Ads”

  1. Attacking policies using rational arguments and facts-based evidence (“facts-based” is redundant next to “evidence”, but it seems necessary to add that qualifier when talking about political rhetoric) is valid and it advances political discourse. Attacking an individual’s methods of governing as being, for example, anti-democratic is definitely a discussion that needs to be had if the accusations are accurate or, at least, have sufficient merit to warrant further examination.

    However, personal attacks, particularly when using spurious “information”, are inexcusable and detrimental to our democracy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *