Bob Simpson MLA: Is a Personal Attack Okay if it’s Funny?

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The BC NDP hit a home run with its Christy Crunch political attack ad. The ad went viral on the internet, got tons of media attention, and was generally given a thumbs up by the media and the Twitterati because it was deemed to be “bright” and “funny.”

I thought it was funny too. So did my wife, my staff, and people I spoke with about it. Then I began to ponder what this reaction to a personal attack ad may mean.

Generally, people don’t like personal attack ads. Most politicians also cringe at the thought of launching them, but get convinced by their political advisers to use them “because they work.”

But, how do they work? Do they grow interest in our democracy? Do they inform debate? Do they attract voters to the electoral process and the ballot box? No, essentially they motivate a party’s base to remember why they “hate” the targeted person or party while sowing seeds of doubt in the target’s own base.

The Christy Crunch ad is specifically designed to link Premier Clark to Mr. Campbell, particularly to his “meanness.” While it’s very early days yet, as Premier, Ms. Clark has, so far, not acted mean: she appears serious about putting families first, raised the minimum wage, restored a portion of the gaming grants, and has delayed BC Hydro rate increases.

She’s also given the BC Liberals a bump in the polls; hence, the BC NDP’s new ad links Ms. Clark back to a Premier whose actions took the BC Liberals to the proverbial basement of public opinion. Normative politics.

What troubles me is that it feels like the Christy Crunch ad is setting a new benchmark: personal attack ads are okay if they’re bright and funny. If this is true, I fear political debate will deteriorate even further as political parties try to tickle our funny bones to make attack ads more entertaining and, therefore, more acceptable.

But, personal attack ads, even funny ones, erode our democracy because, simply put, they don’t appeal to our best instincts and don’t foster the collaboration we desperately need if we’re to obtain the type of governance we require to address issues that are, quite frankly, critical to our survival.

No matter how funny, how bright, or how much they may entertain us, personal attack ads will always undermine our ability to get to good government — which is what politics is supposed to be about.

Reprinted with permission from Bob Simpson’s blog.

About the author

Bob Simpson was re-elected as the MLA for Cariboo North on May 12, 2009. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2005.

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