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Jewish World Review March 11, 1999 /23 Adar 5759

Don Feder

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In praise of negative campaigning

( WHEN A POLITICIAN IMPLORES his rivals to disavow negative campaigning, I wonder what part of his program or record he doesn't want discussed and why.

Last week, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican the media wants to go home with when the bar closes, urged candidates for the GOP presidential nomination "not to stoop to negative campaigning against fellow Republicans."

"Don't let's go down the road of mindlessly destroying each other," McCain pleaded. The senator warned that "scorched-earth Republican primaries will lead directly to an Al Gore presidency."

Seconding the call for a tepid beauty pageant, GOP Chairman Jim Nicholson threatened to "blow the whistle" on those who speak ill of fellow Republicans.

Conventional wisdom (almost always wrong) holds that attacks on Bob Dole by Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan, during the 1996 GOP primary campaign, contributed to Dole's defeat in November.

This is a fascinating theory, lacking only a basis in reality. Try to imagine circumstances in which the lackluster, dyspeptic Dole could conceivably have defeated Clinton.

In answer to criticism that he was being too hard on the then-Senate majority leader, Buchanan observed, "If he can't stand up to me, he won't be able to stand up to Bill Clinton." Dole couldn't and didn't.

In 1988, Pete DuPont and Jack Kemp bashed George Bush as a coupon-clipping Republican, challenging his right to Reagan's supply-side mantle by reminding voters that Bush called Reaganomics "voodoo economics" in 1980. The vice president took his lumps and moved to the right on taxes and spending, thereby adopting a strategy that allowed him to defeat Michael Dukakis in the general election.

Clinton's Democratic rivals were even harder on him when he was the front-runner for the nomination in 1992, questioning everything from his wife's business dealings to his slavish devotion to special interests (the pander-bear, the late Sen. Paul Tsongis called him).

Negative primary campaigning isn't a harbinger of disaster in November. An interparty love-fest is no guarantee of victory.

It's easy to see why McCain, who has undisguised presidential ambitions, would favor primaries devoid of substance.

McCain's tobacco bill included a minimum of $47 billion annually in new taxes. The anti-First Amendment McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill would have made it illegal for advocacy groups like National Right to Life and the ACLU to comment on an incumbent's voting record.

These statist measures -- the proposals for which McCain is best known -- should have as much appeal for GOP primary voters as solicitations for the Clinton presidential library.

Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a key advisor to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, notes that when companies began comparing their products to their competitors' in the 1970s, the advertising strategy was considered a major advance for consumers.

As long as Bayer Asprin's references to Buffrin and Excedrin were factual, its ads were deemed to be valuable consumer input.

Primary voters are also consumers, choosing a product that they hope will be durable enough to last through November and four years in office. The GOP needs the kind of vetting that so-called negative campaigning provides.

If Texas Gov. George W. Bush Jr. has taken a position or favored legislation that demonstrates a lack of commitment to a limited-government, pro-family values vision, I want to know about it before he has the party's nomination.

If Forbes or Gary Bauer brings this to my attention, I'm grateful for the intelligence.

I want to know exactly where the candidates differ and why. I've been around long enough to be able to distinguish between valid criticism and distortions driven by desperation.

Norquist notes that challenging a candidate's record or positions "toughens him, inoculates him or kills him." Presidential primaries are the equivalent of boot camp. Better a would-be warrior fails here than in hand-to-hand combat.

Following McCain's prescription would make for a lively primary season. Bush to Forbes, "Oh, Steve, I just love your flat-tax proposal." Forbes: "Why, thank you, George. And your compassionate conservativism is certainly intriguing." A few months of that, and the footnotes in Gore's "Earth in the Balance" will seem spellbinding by comparison.

As long as the rap is accurate and issue-oriented, Republicans shouldn't be afraid to mix it up. Voters might actually begin noticing them.


3/09/99: Day-care study defies common sense
3/04/99: Starship Clinton orbits Kosovo
3/01/99: Public will blot out Broaddrick's accusation
2/25/99: Slick Hillie for Senate would be fun
2/23/99: Fascism in the name of fighting fascism
2/16/99: Was anything learned from the impeachment trial?
2/12/99: Educating the democratic voters of tomorrow
2/10/99: First Amendment doesn't apply to pro-life cause
2/08/99: Dems' triumph over Constitution complete
2/03/99: Blood of victims will drown out breakfast prayers
2/01/99: Without a home the heart knows no rest
1/29/99: Poster boy for term-limits
1/27/99: The 'so-what' defense in the City of Saints
1/25/99: Whose choice?
1/21/99: Censure worse than nothing
1/18/99: Words can`t dignify a dishonored presidency
1/13/99: Conservatism "with a heart" is conservatism without a head
1/11/99: If he isn't removed, watch out for Bill!
1/07/99: We can learn a lot from Teddy
1/05/99: Monica and a call to modesty
12/30/98: Will Bubba get away with it again?
12/28/98: Zionist dream alive and well on West Bank
12/18/98: Impeach or abandon the Rule of Law
12/16/98: Clinton moves Middle East closer to war
12/14/98: Why we lost interest in the homeless
12/10/98: No place at table for conservatives
12/07/98: The day America lost its innocence
12/02/98: Pilgrims Pilloried in streets of Plymouth
11/30/98: Caribbean dogpatch not a good candidate for statehood
11/25/98: Will Vermont force gay marriage on the nation?
11/23/98: The ACLU wants your kids to get a love life
11/18/98: Why liberals hate tobacco and guns more than drugs and crime
11/16/98: "Pleasantville" a countercultural morality play
11/13/98: Ads are a tough sell for abortion
11/09/98: Why gutless Republicans lost
11/06/98: Historians against the Constitution
11/02/98: Loving response to a hateful conference
10/28/98: Professor Death will fit right in at Princeton
10/26/98: Plymouth caves to Pilgrim foes
10/21/98: On '98 election, keep a critical eye on polls
10/19/98: Clinton could yet be 'prosperity president'
10/16/98: Working families -- Dems love 'em (stuffed)
10/09/98: Majoring in 'weirdness'
10/07/98: Friends of Billy Clinton
9/29/98: Letter from ex-soldier highlights defense peril
9/28/98: Answering arguments against impeachment
9/18/98: The nation that doesn't exist
9/14/98: Bubba isn't the only one who should be ashamed
9/11/98: Resolution of Clinton crisis will define national character
9/09/98: We're still just wild about Harry
9/07/98: Mexican banditry didn't end with Pancho Villa
9/02/98: Clinton forgives us!
8/31/98: Ashcroft's plain talking touches responsive chord
8/26/98: Public opinion be damned
8/24/98: Why liberals condone Clinton's lies
8/20/98: Time to move on -- to impeachment
8/12/98: With Bubba in the sexual privacy zone
8/10/98: The truth won't set Clinton free
8/06/98: Truth about Hiroshima is incontrovertible
8/04/98: Clinton not the first hollow president
7/30/98: "Small Soldiers" -- a fractured Vietnam allegory
7/27/98: Crime wave hits hometown
7/22/98: Love in an Internet fishbowl
7/20/98: Ads bring ex-gay movement out of closet
7/15/98: Brian and Amy -- the children of Roe
7/13/98: Why are we scared of obnoxious 'activists?'
7/6/98: Fonda still resists reality
7/1/98: New York blesses domestic partnerships
6/29/98: Teddy and Calvin stood for virtue
6/24/98: Will Clinton betray Taiwan?
6/22/98: Big tobacco? What about big casinos?
6/15/98: Religion -- God for what ails you
6/10/98: Planning Clinton's China itinery
6/8/98: Republicans' Custer offers advice
6/4/98: Oh, Dems Christian-bashers!
6/2/98: Goldwater did conservatives more harm than good
5/27/98: A Clinton-hater confesses
5/15/98: Giuliani's assault on marriage
5/13/98: Hillary knows what's best for everyone
5/11/98: To honor her would not be honorable
5/6/98: Conservative chasm: pragmatism vs. worship of marketplace
5/4/98: Anglo-saxon me
4/29/98: Needle exchange programs are assisted-suicide
4/27/98: Chretien's mission of mercy to Fidel
4/22/98: School-choice is a religious freedom issue
4/20/98: Corporate execs deliver body parts to Beijing
4/14/98: National sales tax --- looks better all the time
4/13/98: The U.N. sinister? Hey, where did that idea come from?
4/8/98: Unions fight workers rights in 226 campaign
3/30/98: Africa's leaders should apologize
3/25/98: GOP shouldn't look to media for advice
3/22/98: You should care about Clinton's 'private life'
3/19/98: Color-coded reading, product of obsessive minds
3/16/98: Amendment will end exile of G-d from our public lives
3/9/98: Havana will break your heart
3/2/98: Vouchers Terrify Teachers' Union
2/25/98: Presidential politics starts at a resort hotel
2/23/98: Hillary's support comes at a price
2/18/98: How many times must we say "no" to gay rights?
2/16/98: Enoch Powell spoke the truth on immigration
2/11/98: Bubba behaving badly
2/9/98: A conservative dissent on the flag-burning amendment
2/5/98: We get the leaders we deserve
2/2/98: Send a signal that could penetrate boardroom doors
1/27/98: State of the president: hollow rhetoric
1/25/98: For Monica's playmate, we have no one to blame but ourselves
1/22/98: At Yale, bet on yarmulke over gown
1/19/98: Commission tackles America's fastest-growing addiction, gambling
1/15/98: Capital punishment and the hard case: no exceptions for Karla Faye Tucker
1/12/98: Partial-birth abortion and the GOP's future: the "big tent" meets truth in advertising
1/8/98: IOLTA: the Left's latest scam to crawl into our pockets
1/5/98: Connect the dots to create a terrorist state
1/1/98: The Unacceptables of 1997: Long may they rave
12/28/97: Hypocrisy is a liberal survival mechanism
12/23/97: Chanukah is no laughing matter
12/22/97: No merry Christmas for persecuted Christians around the world
12/18/97: Bosnia, Haiti, and how not to conduct a foreign policy

©1999, Creators Syndicate