My educated guess is that one of Senator Kerry's chief campaign strategies will be to use "negative campaigning" as both a sword and a shield. While shamelessly distorting the president's record through truly dirty campaigning, he'll falsely charge the Bush team of negative campaigning to obscure his own problematic record.
In effect, Kerry operatives will be saying to the Bush administration: "You can't engage in negative campaigning, but we will. You can't question our patriotism, and you can't tout your own patriotism, but we'll tout ours and question yours. And we'll deny we're doing it and accuse you of dirty campaigning if you so much as call us on it."
But before addressing the matter of campaign tactics, let's get a few things straight about so-called "negative campaigning" and the proper parameters of political discourse during an election cycle.
It is wrongheaded to believe that political discourse must always be sweet and light, and rosy and cheerful. Political debate should, of course, be civil, but "getting along" should not be elevated above adhering to principle. We've fallen for the notion that controversy is inherently unhealthy, when the precise opposite is closer to the truth. Indeed, the free flow of conflicting ideas is indispensable to maintaining a regime of freedom.
The essence of free speech is the right to unfettered expression on matters of politics and policy, because these subjects determine the scope and conduct of government and thereby safeguard freedom by ensuring the government exists to serve the people and not the other way around. Conversely, suppressing dissent is a pathway to and a hallmark of totalitarianism.
But in recent times, the political Left, which resides in the Democratic Party, has conducted a systematic assault on political speech, from politically correct speech codes on college campuses to campaign finance "reforms," to efforts to re-institute the Fairness Doctrine for radio broadcasting. At the same time the Left has been engaged in an all out effort to eliminate restrictions on expressions that have little to do with preserving freedom, such as obscenity.
With such an underappreciation for the importance of political speech, it is hardly surprising that the Left is also trying to chill speech through intimidation tactics at the campaign level.
So look to Team Kerry to implement a multipronged strategy centered around false charges of negative campaigning by Team Bush, while simultaneously engaging in negative campaigning itself to stifle a wide ranging policy debate. Kerry will continue to: