Policing Political AdsThe headline is scary, but it belies the message. Broder was doing well until the last paragraph. Then he booted it.
By David S. Broder
Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page B07
...With total reported political contributions for this cycle already past the $1 billion mark -- and the heaviest ad buys still to come -- the character of the perpetual debate about campaign financing has begun to shift. Instead of focusing on who is giving how much, the argument now seems to be about who has the right to join in the spending spree....
With record sums available to both sides -- either through their official committees or through the independent groups supporting them -- the real issue is not one of finance but of accountability....
The institutions and individuals with a stake in the presidential election are far more numerous than two parties and two candidates. All sorts of other groups -- from left and right, from environmentalists to anti-abortionists -- have much riding on the outcome. By what logic are they to be prohibited from running their ads?...
The reality is that, in a nation with our Constitution's guarantee of free speech and a government whose decisions affect every aspect of life, the flow of money from the private sector into the political world will be almost impossible to control.
What can be disciplined is the tendency of these ads to exaggerate, distort or flat-out lie. And the candidates who benefit from the ads are the ones who have the first responsibility -- along with the media -- to police them. The candidates ought to be judged by their willingness to tell their supporters when they have crossed the line.
The only "policing" that's needed is the policing that citizens do in the privacy of their own minds. It's impossible to take at face value a candidate's disavowal or repudiation of ads attacking his opponent. Is the candidate being sincere or merely observing the niceties of political decorum? In the end, citizens are left to make up their own minds about the validity of third-party attack ads, just as they are left to make up their own minds about the validity of candidates' ads.
But Broder is just being Broder, a paternalistic Washington insider who doesn't trust "the masses" to think for themselves.