Jefferson and Adams attack!

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Here’s Reason’s take:

Have this year’s negative political ads really “taken dirty to a whole new level, as CNN’s Anderson Cooper frets? Is a “return to civility…a relic of a bygone era,” as President Barack Obama laments?

Er, not exactly.

If anonymous political speech, the other widely decried villain of this political season, helped found the United States, attack ads are as American as apple pie. If you fancy yourself a patriot or a history buff, you will most certainly approve this message, which is taken from statements made by, for, and against the nation’s founders. For historical sources, go here.

The New York Times reported that “attack” ads have increased incrementally in recent years in a story headlined “Negative Spots Reach New Highs”:

Politics on TV is getting more negative. A continuing study of political television advertising finds that in this election cycle, attack ads—those solely about a candidate’s opponent—increased to half or more of all commercials. The share of ads that promote a candidate has fallen steadily since 2002; those that contrast candidates (using only part of the ad to attack an opponent) are consistently the least numerous. Figures are for all ads that aired between Sept. 1 and Oct. 20 of each election cycle.

[2010 figures based on Wesleyan Media Project with data from Kantar Media/CMAG. 2000-2008 figures by Wisconsin Advertising Project with data from CMAG. Ads studied are for House and Senate by all sponsors (candidates, parties, groups and coordinated)]

Of course, the attack ads have “reach[ed] new highs” only if one pretends every election before 2000 didn’t happen—including the 1800 brawl featuring Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.