As McCain launched another 'attack ad' on Obama comparing him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, an insult in anyone's books, and the Obama campaign has responded that such tactics are "juvenile" and that the McCain campaign is taking the "low road" with the "same old politics, same failed policies", we have to ask the question is it possible to contest a seat of power without taking a personal shot at the opposition?
To take such a route is an interesting tactic for McCain to take as during the 2000 election campaign he also had to deal with attacks on his family. Before the South Carolina primary that year rumours circulated about McCain having fathered an illegitimate "black baby". McCain and his wife Cindy had just adopted a daughter from Bangladesh, but that didn't stop the smear campaign broadcasting rumours of infidelity and a 'love-child'. In a country that was still reeling from the fall out of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair such rumours were bound to affect a candidates credibility. McCain went onto lose the primary and subsequently, it could be said, the nomination.
After such personal attacks you would imagine that McCain would think twice about being connected with a personal attack on another candidate. Apparently not. When Michelle Obama made her now, over quoted, 'proud' gaffe both Mr and Mrs McCain wasted no time in putting the boot in.
Obama himself has stated that such tactics are examples of a failing political system and that the McCain campaign is just trying to install fear and divert people’s attentions away from issues such as the economy. Not that Obama can quite call him self squeaky clean in this issue, let's face it being hailed as the next George W. Bush can only be described as an insult.
The fact is that while originally deploring such tactics both Obama, McCain and other candidates haven't been stringent enough in their criticism of such attacks on other candidates. The only person to make a decent stand was Laura Bush. Her defence of Michelle Obama showing that being a political figure doesn't mean abandoning all sense of fairness. McCain, on the other hand, seems to have thrown off the pretence of condemning such tactics and embraced them wholeheartedly them as his three-in-a-row shows.
But are such ad's inevitable, in a system where personality of the candidate is as much an issue as their stance on the economy or the war in Iraq? Could we envision an election where the topics up for debate and attack were simply the issues at hand? But I suspect that even if both candidates were to stick to the declaration they both made of avoiding attack ads they would still have to contend with the third party groups just dying to stir things up. Groups such as Swift Boat and Move On have taken such ads to extremes and seem to take delight in not just making a political statement but viciously attacking the candidates without reason, justification or sticking to the facts. The fact that 12% of Americans, apparently, still believe, (incorrectly I might add) that Obama is a Muslim and that when he was sworn in refused to put his hand on a bible but opted for a Koran instead, is testament to the fact that although deplorable these tactics still work and as such will be peddled as legitimate means of campaigning until they lose their potency or effectiveness.
And they're not the only ones. Every article blog or video posted on the web seems to be accompanied by vicious diatribes from extreme supporters of both parties finding an excuse to pour their bile, bigotry and hatred into the mix. The internet seems to be a breeding ground for a whole chorus of Anne Coulter wannabees who loudly proclaim their opinions regardless of truth, integrity or willingness to listen to someone with a different opinion. The old adage 'we'll agree to disagree' has been thrown out of the window. People no longer seem to have different opinions or different approaches, they are either patriots or traitors and cowards.
Although I applaud Obama's attempts to pull campaigning out of the gutter, I can't help but think that until people stop peddling their own brand of hate and bigotry as reasonable political debate then attack ads will continue to be broadcast and accepted legitimate means of campaigning.
By Beth Connor