There is nothing like the last few gasping breathes of the political ads season to leave me pining for the return of ads for extraordinary gadgets that could quite possibly change my life. And if you were like me and thought that the political ads this year were particularly heinous, a recent study has verified it to be true. As I read the article from ABC news, though, some thing grabbed by attention. The article made the point that negative ads are nothing new (1828: supporters of John Quincy Adams put out pamphlets saying Andrew Jackson’s mother was a prostitute, his wife was a bigamist and that Jackson himself was a murderer) and then went on to quote political scientist John Greer as saying, "You have to be able to go negative first if you want to change things. It’s part and parcel of democracy." Even the Declaration of Independence, claims Greer, is an "attack document," that goes after King George III and England.
To be sure, if we don’t feel negatively about something we probably won’t work for change. If it weren’t for the rather irritating effects of gravity I probably wouldn’t exercise. On a more serious note, if I am pleased with every aspect of my local school board’s decisions I will probably not seek to change anything at all. On the other hand, if I see policies or decisions being made with which I fundamentally disagree I am much more likely to advocate for change. But does this mean that I have to "go negative" if I want to change things, or participate in the experience of democracy? I don’t think so.
Perhaps I am attaching too much to the concept of going negative, but it seems to me that it once again involves the process of demonizing the other (see above, re: Andrew Jackson’s mother). I believe that participation in government, and the possibilities of transformation in society, can occur without first "going negative" if we as a society take the time to consider what our actual goals are and recognize that there often are more than one way to proceed. I actually think that the Declaration of Independence is a good example here. It may have arisen from negativity toward an oppressive government, but it offered concrete, positive declarations of the values and presuppositions of the Founding Fathers. It only "attacked" the position of the king in that it offered an alternative view on which the future decisions of the colonies would be based (and, if I am not mistaken, avoided any comments about his mother). If political ads were really based on this kind of "attack" perhaps we could actually work toward real change once the voting was over.