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What is an Attack Ad?
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Is this?

Bush: "I'm George W. Bush and I approve this message."

Announcer: "Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war. Though John Kerry voted in October of 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers."

Senate Clerk: "Mr. Kerry:"

Announcer: "No. Body armor for troops in combat."

Senate Clerk: "Mr. Kerry:"

Announcer: "No. Higher combat pay."

Senate Clerk: "Mr. Kerry:"

Announcer: "No. And, better health care for reservists and their families ..."

Senate Clerk: "Mr. Kerry:"

Announcer: "No. Wrong on defense."


The ad opens with three scenes of Bush at the White House as he approves the spot. A picture of the U.S. Capitol appears, followed by a clip of a solider directing an aircraft carrier to take off. Kerry then is shown talking on half the screen, while footage of soldiers apparently in Iraq fills the other half. Another split screen follows, showing a solider walking to a bus and a Black Hawk helicopter in flight. Scenes from the Senate floor are interspersed with clips of soldiers in fatigues, at work and hugging loved ones. The ad ends with a picture of Kerry and the written phrase: "John Kerry: Wrong on Defense."

I think this an interesting question, and this ad in particular is an interesting case. The ad is criticizing a vote, officially on the record, of John Kerry, which is a completely legitimate thing to do.

But it focuses on individual attributes of the spending bill, as if Kerry were opposed to those issues alone. Spending bills often have provisions that are unsound, and Kerry says he voted against the bill primarily because it included no-bid contracts.

Of course, legislation goes through a tortured process before it comes to a vote, and no bill is perfect. A representative has to decide, even if it includes things he/she finds distasteful, whether the net effect of the bill is positive, and whether or not it is worth voting for overall.

I think it's fair to say that there is a particular sense of urgency for military funding while troops are actively on the ground, and that that ought to be taken into consideration. So I think Kerry's vote was wrong (besides, did he introduce another bill without the offending provisions, or actively work to revise the bill to his liking?). And it's legitimate to criticize that vote in a campaign ad, though this particular ad does a bit of a shady job.

But it an attack? Is any ad that criticizes a candidates voting record necessarily an attack ad?

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