One Man’s “Attack Ads” Are Another Man’s Free Speech
A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that the only thing more annoying than political advertising are “People who complain about political advertising.”
That popped into my head as I was reading this report from the Fargo Forum’s Marino Eccher about political spending in North Dakota this campaign cycle, “the vast majority of it for attack ads” he reports.
It’s fashionable to be disgusted with “attack ads,” and to be certain they can be sort of sleazy, but not all “attack ads” are cut from the same cloth. Is it so wrong for a candidate, or for an independent group, to point out what they don’t like about a candidate? Also, in North Dakota’s Senate race, most of the “attack ads” aimed at Heidi Heitkamp focused on her support for political leaders (Barack Obama, Harry Reid) and policies (higher taxes, Obamacare) that the perpetrators of those ads think most North Dakotans would find objectionable.
Are they attacks? I suppose, but one might also call them criticisms. Or contrasts. I mean, it’s not like they were attacking Heitkamp’s looks.
What worries me about this conventional wisdom about political attack ads is that we seem to be forgetting that the ads are speech. I get as annoyed as the next person seeing the same ads repeat over and over again on the radio and on television, but I cringe when I hear people start griping about “super PACs” and “outside money,” etc., etc.
What is a political action committee, or a candidate’s campaign for that matter, if not a group of citizens coming together to support or oppose an issue? Aren’t we guaranteed the right to do that under the constitution?
Democracy is a messy process, to be sure. I wish we had a better way to pick leaders than to pit candidates against one another, but what are the alternatives? Monarchy? Despotism, where the leader is whoever has the most weapons and the biggest army?
As aggravating as campaign season can be – and it can be pretty aggravating – we should be extremely wary of attempts to curb political speech, whether it’s spending by independent groups or contributions to campaigns or just plain old speech. Better the partisan brawling, and political bickering, of campaigns than a stilted, tightly-controlled public discourse.Tags: free speech, Politics