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Political Attack Ads a Declaration of War

By Adrienne Frank

Is civility dead in Washington? Did it ever exist in the first place? A trio of politicos tackled those questions and more during Tuesday’s Table Talk discussion on campaign etiquette.

Presented as part of AU’s annual Civitas festivities, the event featured Democratic consultant Liz Chadderdon, Republican consultant Chris Malagisi, and School of Communication professor Dotty Lynch.

Likening politics to “trench warfare,” with each party “lobbing bombs” at one another, Malagisi said it would take nothing short of a catastrophic event to bring politicians on both sides of the aisle together.

“No one likes bomb throwing; I’m disgusted by it,” said Malagisi, director of political training at the Leadership Institute and an AU alumnus. “But the reality is, both parties are panicked right now, and they feel the only thing they can do is [turn to attack ads].”

Chadderdon, president of the Chadderdon Group, said negative campaigning has been around since the first presidential election in 1789, “it’s just more public in a 24/7 news cycle.”

“Neither of these candidates is going to bring civility to Washington—that’s just Washington,” she continued. “We are at war . . . and until there’s mutual disarmament, nothing’s going to change.”

Former political editor of CBS News, Lynch said it’s a vicious cycle, as “it’s pretty well established that if there’s an attack ad out there, you’ve got to answer it.” John Kerry chose not to respond to the “swift boat ads” during the 2004 campaign, Lynch reminded the audience, and he lost.

“The American people are overwhelmed and a trifle bit lazy. They get their information from the TV,” added Chadderdon. “And if you don’t refute bad stuff, people are going to believe it—and you’re going to lose.”

Still, Lynch is hopeful that, one day, politicians will “reach across the aisle.”

“The American people have been clear that that’s what they want,” she said. “It’s difficult to do, but it’s not impossible.”