Jonah Goldberg

Both sides need to cowboy up. After spending months watching Democrats calling President Bush a liar and a fraud, the Kerry campaign is suddenly shrieking about President Bush's "smear machine," "gutter politics" and his alleged questioning of Kerry's patriotism. Meanwhile, George Bush needs to worry less about seeming like a compassionate conservative and more about how he can land a good shot or two on Kerry.

In fact, for more than a decade, Republicans and Democrats alike have been incessantly bellyaching about how mean the other side is. In 1992 Bob Dole, a WWII hero for Pete's sake, whined about how poppa Bush "lied" about his record. And in 1996 he complained again about how mean Steve Forbes was to him.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have been grousing about unfair "negative attacks" at the drop of a hat. Gore was the best at this. He'd call his debate opponents craven lickspittles of the cancer industry who only know how to go negative. Then, when his opponent said, "That's not true," Gore would moan, "See! He called me a liar! Another negative attack!"

It's all such nonsense (though successful nonsense for Kerry so far). By any historical measure, Bush hasn't gone negative at all yet. And all but the most vicious anti-Bush rhetoric from the Democrats isn't that big a deal by historical standards. In 1828 Andrew Jackson's wife was smeared as a bigamist, his mother a hooker and he a murderer. Meanwhile Jackson's people put out the word that John Quincy Adams was a pimp for the czar of Russia. Now that's going negative!

The fact is campaigns have been progressively nicer for centuries. I don't know if that's good or bad, though I suspect bad. Regardless, democracy is about arguments, not feelings. So let's have some good arguments before we start complaining about how mean the campaign has gotten. We've got time.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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