Us & Them
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Scorched earth politics

Scorched earthToday's Wall Street Journal editorial pages provide a step-by-step guide to modern electioneering and, in the process, demonstrate how politics have degenerated into a scorched earth exercise in character assassination.

"A Democratic candidate, assisted by unions and outside partisan groups, floods the zone with attack ads, painting the GOP opponent as a tea-party nut who is too "extreme" for the state. The left focuses on divisive wedge issues—like abortion—that resonate with women or other important voting constituencies.

"As the Republican's unfavorable ratings rise, the Democrat presents himself as a reasonable moderate, in tune with the state's values. A friendly media overlook the Democrat's reliably liberal record, and the lies within the smears against his opponent, and ultimately declares the Democrat unbeatable."

The Journal uses a Democrat -- aided by unions and left-leaning partisan groups -- as Exhibit A in its description of attack politics. 

But it could have just as easily found a Republican example. (Indeed, some political scientists credit Republican strategists Lee Atwater and Karl Rove for creating and perfecting the strategy.)

One could also substitute Fox News and a choir of conservative talk-show hosts for the friendly liberal media that "overlooks" outight lies and smears. And the "conservative SuperPACs" it praises later in the column count as "outside partisan groups."

But what's most worrisome is that, while the Journal doesn't come right out and applaud the GOP's use of the technique, it claims "no one can fault" them for doing so.

Well, I can.

The politics of division may work, but they're precisely what's wrong with the way our candidates campaign. After they've won office, they've left nothing but scorched earth behind.

Scorched earth the rest of us have to live in.

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