By Jeremy Barr
On the eve of the Wisconsin Democratic primary (and with Ohio and Texas in the near future), the leading Democratic candidates for president have begun to hit each other hard. One of the biggest debates this cycle has been about the difference between “going negative” and simply differentiating the records of the two candidates.
On the surface, the two might seem to be one and the same. But there is a difference. A candidate “goes negative” when he or she starts taking the other person’s actions or statements out of context, and uses them to suggest that the opposing candidate either doesn’t care about a section of the population or is of dubious character.
For the sake of the Democratic Party, Obama and Clinton must stick to differentiating policy rather than attacking. Both candidates are in a seemingly tedious position, as Obama is running a campaign based on changing the ways of Washington politics (read: no more attack ads), and Clinton is competing against a candidate who has disavowed their use.
During this campaign it seems that the decision between using attack ads or policy differentials has been based largely on poll numbers and perceived momentum. When Hillary was the presumed front-runner, she was able to run a positive campaign, with Obama taking the role of the insurgent challenger. Now that there has been a role reversal, Clinton has been forced back into the role of the attacker.
Although the Republican Party is nowhere near united behind its nominee, Senator John McCain, an increasingly negative primary campaign can only hurt the Democratic Party. Highlighting differences in policy (what few there are) between the candidates is important, but taking that extra step and going negative can only further disillusion people who already believe that politics is at its core negative and corrupt.