Indeed, to keep this post down to a readable length (and thereby breaking the habit of a lifetime), I shall confine my observations to one aspect in particular of their activities, namely negative campaigning.
Here in cosy, friendly Canada, for example, we live under the iron fist (well, not exactly, but I'm in a negative campaigning mood) of a prime minister and ruling political party which are enthusiastic proponents of the negative political campaign. Indeed, these fine bullies - er - men and women - in 2011 rode a wave of public apathy into majority government power based largely upon a ruthless (and desperately boring) campaign of negative advertising, targeting the former leader of the second largest political party in the country. It was so successful that the historically dominant political party in the country was thrashed into a lowly third place in the general election. There were big smiles from the winners and the second place party (which by the way, didn't engage in the same tactics but benefitted from the winner's partisan and rather dishonest approach).
You could say that the losers had it coming, and quite possibly you'd be right - it was a party that had become very comfortable with its view of the world. I think that they would have been out of power, or at least power-sharing, anyway.
However, the issue for me was the dishonesty surrounding the negative, 'attack' advertising campaign, which almost entirely targeted one man (the prospective prime minister), with little more than speculative comments and statements based upon misinformation. The 'facts' were presented as significant when in fact the entire message was entirely assumptive and opinion-based, when the entire thing was postulated from a highly partisan, twisted perspective and clearly designed to paint a very one-sided picture of the man in question. At the time I found it rather feeble, rather pathetic, rather unconvincing and even counter-productive, but it worked. I despaired of the voters who fell for the campaign. Frankly, I thought, if you're going to swallow that kind of crap, you deserve the pain it brings you.
Just this week I've come across another fine example of negative campaigning, courtesy of Bill Maher (if you click his name, it will link you to his blog site), who despite not being totally in line with all of my opinions, is an incisive comedic political commentator down south/over the border or in the land of 'shoot first, ask questions in the bar afterwards'. It seems that a gubernatorial competition (I had never heard of the word 'gubernatorial' before I came to North America; it sounds like something plucked from a 70s cartoon series, but it's a real word...) has witnessed a rather blatant example of the strategy in question recently. Apparently one of the candidates has a dark secret, one that has somehow been unearthed by his implacable opponents. It's appalling (allegedly), horrendous (allegedly) and makes him unfit to govern (OK, I'm laughing because I know what's coming next).
His secret - the secret of a man in this fifties (I believe) is that when he was at college (so; thirty years ago, as a young man), he...take a deep breath, this will shock you...with a group of friends....visited a strip club (cue dramatic fanfare)!!!! This incident is now being sold to the voting public as evidence of his unfit...um...I'm going to go with 'unfitness' and be damned for it...to oversee his state's governance. I'm not making this up.
I'll limit myself to the most obvious observations which should make this a joke, and therefore ignored by the voters:
1. It was thirty years ago, he was a young man goofing around, and if he isn't a very different person by now, I'd be astonished.
2. This is the worst thing his opponents could find to say about him. Either they have no platform of their own (highly likely) or they are very unworldly and are unfit to govern - or of course, both.
3. If the voters are going to be swayed by this kind of a 'revelation', then they shouldn't really have the right to vote. I mean, really, come ON!
What voters seem to ignore when faced with negative campaigns - and, by the way, the same principle is true in a criminal court when one side resorts to attacking the character of a witness - the attackers have little or no argument of their own and so are reduced to muddying the waters with what amount to insulting implications, judgements and in many cases; lies. Creating an impression of negativity is all that matters; the truth is lost amid the whirlwind of accusations and denials. This, of course, is exactly what the attacking side is seeking, and in my opinion it's not a clever tactic, it's fundamentally misleading and dishonest.
When a person, group or political party resorts to negative tactics, they lose my respect and my vote for these reasons. I have a hard time understanding why voters don't feel the same way. The main factor in this may of course be (brace yourself for a controversial statement of a controversial opinion) that there are a lot of opinionated fools out there; that there are a lot of stupid voters. I happen to think that when voting, we can't afford to behave stupidly; we have a civic responsibility to think hard about our choices, and in order to do so, to think about the positive effects of every choice.
In other words: what do we WANT, instead of what do we NOT want.