OpenLeft: Negative and Racist Are Different Concepts


Negative and Racist Are Different Concepts

Political campaigns are at heart organized attempts to get voters to fire one person and hire another.  There are many strategies, but the essence is that you try to get voters to make comparisons about the two (or three or four) choices, and pick your choice.  Arguing foryour guy means arguing against your opponent.  So I have a nit to pick with Ari at Oxdown. Matt Stoller :: Negative and Racist Are Different Concepts

I like negative politics. Defining your opponents is a vital part of winning elections, but there are lines that should never be crossed. When a campaign is so negative that it inspires crowds to spew racial epithets, you’ve probably gone to far.

Racial epithets are used as an organizing vehicle for conservative politicians and policies, they are not a symptom of too much ‘negative politics’.  Progressive political campaigns that go harshly negative tend to produce accusations of war-mongering or class-based arguments, not racial epithets.

I’ve been doing a bit of research on partisanship throughout American history, and in general, the people who defend strong contrasts between political parties (ie. negative politics) are those seeking to change the status quo, and those decrying lines that ought not to be crossed are elite technocrats seeking to preserve the status quo.  Now, since the elites in both parties constantly laud unity and decry disagreement, you can tell that there’s a strong bias towards the status quo within both groups.

Right now, there are basically two groups actually pressing for structural change.  One are the progressive activists who strongly advocate for partisan politics, and the other are the Lou Dobbs wingnut types that use anti-corporate and xenophobia.  Both are supremely populist, both are decried as quite negative.  But only one is racist.  Let’s keep that straight.


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