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.
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 CO2 emissions 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?