Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

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Sun editorial:

Smear ads diminish democratic process

After a presidential election in which political discourse was dragged to a junior-high level of name-calling and taunting, it’s bitterly disappointing to see this year’s barrage of negative campaign advertising involving Nevada candidates.

Rarely has there been a need for the adults in the room to step up and focus on substantive issues. But in far too many cases, Nevada candidates and the various groups supporting them have taken the politics-as-usual approach of smearing opponents instead of promoting themselves and their ideas.

Sad to say, the examples are too numerous to mention. But the worse ones involve candidates committing character assaults on their opponents by dredging up allegations that have either been disproven or are highly questionable.

Such ads are lamentable in any election. But that’s especially the case coming off a presidential election in which the discourse sank to the level of discussing the size of one particular candidate’s hands.

Keep in mind that smearing isn’t simply questionable morally and ethically. It’s actually corrosive to our democracy.

Negative campaigning has always been a part of politics, but there was a time when it was far less pervasive than it is today. Then, candidates focused to a greater degree on their positions on issues and asked voters to choose them based on their viewpoints and proposed solutions.

But today, amid the escalation of negative advertising and the emergence of partisan social media echo chambers, voters are increasingly being asked to vote on the basis of which candidate they’re mad at, not which would best serve their interests and is most qualified.

No wonder Americans are becoming so tribalized politically.

Smear ads also threaten to erode trust in media sources and give rise to fake news purveyors. The ads often cite legitimate news stories, but present them without adequate context or spin them in a way that makes them questionable. At a time when people are struggling over what to believe, it’s irresponsible of candidates and their supporters to twist the truth and confuse voters.

Candidates and pundits might argue that negative ads work, and in the most crass sense that’s often true, in that voters remember them.

But the ads don’t work in terms of strengthening our democracy. To the contrary, they undercut it.

True leaders will recognize that, and will take the high road as we prepare for the stretch run of the campaign.