“Dirty campaigning” is any behavior — any speech, any ad, any press release — that interferes with an honest and accurate discussion of policies.
Does this mean everyone has to “play nice”? Of course not. There’s room in civil discourse for sharp disagreement, withering ridicule, satirical references, sarcasm, bombast, even volume.
But please, let’s stick to facts, and to policies.
The worst thing we can do when debating an opponent is to demonize him. Let’s demand our candidates, at all levels, refrain from the despicable practice of ascribing the very worst imaginable motives to those who simply disagree.
Do we really need to say this? Barack Obama does not hate America. He is not a secret socialist bent on destroying the country from within. He’s a typical Democrat, who believes that government can and should be employed to fix problems people face.
And Mitt Romney doesn’t hate the poor. He’s no reverse Robin Hood, intent on robbing from the poor to give to the rich. He’s a typical Republican, who believes the government should (most of the time) just get out of the way, and let people solve their own problems.
It really is that simple.
Effective self-government requires an accurate understanding of the facts and choices. A candidate who cannot make a point without being unfair or disingenuous places our democracy at risk.
“Dirty campaigning” also includes relying on ad hominem attacks — name-calling and attacks on the person, not the policy. It also includes misrepresenting opposing positions (the ‘straw man’ argument). Those are unfair to the voters, because they’re a distraction from the real issues at hand.
(We do recognize that character counts, and real character flaws are legitimate topics of discussion. But those are relatively rare at this point in the campaigns.)
It’s up to us — the media and the voters — to demand more from our politicians. We can and should raise the bar. The incivility we see now serves only to discourage participation in the political process.