Attack Ads: Permissible or Prohibited?

December 13, 2011

Political Theory

Recently, Republican candidates for next year’s presidential election and their allies have been ratcheting up their efforts.  Debates have yielded equal parts bewilderment and viciousness, as political argumentation is wont to do.  However, as we approach next November, the advent of political ads is quick approaching.  Soon it will be impossible to channel surf or catch an episode of your favorite sitcom without seeing the made up faces of each candidate, promoting their beliefs and vilifying those of their opponents.  Some of these will attack Republicans and others, the Democratic candidate, current President Barack Obama.

As we approach November, many of us may begin to foster similar hostilities.

American LP, a newly minted Super Political Action Committee, has put out an ad targeting Mitt Romney.  It consists of this candidate speaking in French about the 2002 Winter Olympics, held in Salt Lake City.  However, the captions consist of statements that Romney no longer stands by.  Many of these are controversial among conservatives; among them,”I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard” and “I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer and #2 that humans are contributing to that.”  A search of his campaign website revealed a piece entitled “My Pro-Life Pledge,” from June 18th of this year, in which he states “I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”  In late October of this year, Romney stated “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce COemissions is not the right course for us.”  It seems as if this group sought to show Romney’s differing positions-but why did this Super PAC play a video of the candidate speaking unrelated French?

As some of you may remember, when John Kerry ran for president in the 2004 election, he was ridiculed by the members of the right wing for looking French, a pundit suggesting the candidate might go by “Monsieur Kerry” and “Jean Chéri.”  His fluency in French was widely ridiculed.  This ad attempts to evoke this anti-French sentiment that proved so successful against Kerry, combining it with his so dramatically different former decisions.

Considering all of this, do you think John Stuart Mill would consider these attacks fair?  Assuredly, he was a major proponent of free speech.  His only proposed imposition of power would rely on the “prevent[ion of] harm to others.”  These attacks on Romney and Kerry are based in irrational hatred for the French; it clearly harmed Kerry’s campaign and this new ad has the potential to damage that of Romney.  The quotations from the video attacking Romney are accurate; does that make this attack permissible?  What about the rhetoric used in attacks against Kerry?




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2 Comments on “Attack Ads: Permissible or Prohibited?”

  1. andgoldberg Says:

    I think political campaign advertisements should stay away from attacking other candidates. While Mill would argue that freedom of speech always applies, I think attack campaign ads take away from the election. The campaign ads are supposed to inform the public of each candidate’s stance on current political issues. Personally, when I see attacking ads it reflects negatively on the specific politician.

  2. akmcoy Says:

    Despite his advocacy for the freedom of speech, Mill might not agree with them because they are direct attacks and inhibit other people. However, political attack ads are always going to be a part of elections and the nomination process. It’s a competition and each competitor is going to look for an edge over their opponent. Would it be nice if this wasn’t a part of it? Sure… But it’s unreasonable to ever think that it’ll stop. You simply couldn’t control every candidate’s advertising approach.

    I wouldn’t say that the Romney ad is based on hatred for French though. I would say that it’s centered around his drastic change of view on 2 frequently talked about topics, which, in my opinion, makes it permissible to produce an ad about. If political ads are supposed to inform the general population about candidates, don’t they deserve to know a candidate wavers on important topics? Regardless, I agree that the French language thing is pretty weird and unnecessary.

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