One strategy that campaign finance reform advocates employ to gain public support for their cause is to stir up hatred of negative campaigning.Â Public financing of campaigns, they argue, will lead to more civil discourse and shield voters’ sensitive eyes from the horrors of democracy.
Recently, I happened to be paging through old copies of the Park Falls Herald from 1960 (don’t ask why).Â Park Falls, as many know, is a small town in Northern Wisconsin.Â In 1960, there was an election for State Senator in the Park Falls areaÂ between Republican Clifford Krueger and Democrat Henry Berquist.Â On November 3rd of 1960, an anti-Berquist advertisement appeared in the Park Falls Herald (the last issue before the election) that made some pretty entertaining accusations against the Democrat.
The advertisement accused Berquist of “having close alliance and cooperation with communist Russia,” and beingÂ ”against the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”Â The ad went on to accuse Berquist of being “Against the Marshall Plan to stop communism in Europe” and being “against our having atom bombs unless Russia has them too.”Â (The ad also rips Berquist for being “against the draft,” which means in that respect, he was before his time.)
Here’s a copy of the ad.Â You can click on it to make it bigger.
In 1960, McCarthyism may still have been alive and well, and it may have been good politics to accuse your opponent of being a communist.Â But thisÂ was a state senate race.Â In the North Woods.Â In 1960.Â Weren’t those the days when politicians supposedly all got along, and went out and had beers with each other?Â In fact, bitter partisanship and negative campaigning has always been a part of the American political landscape – and it always will be, regardless of who pays for the ads.Â These kinds of attacks, while not necessarily any different today, just seem more pervasive, with the advent of so many more types of media outlets.
In the election, Krueger went on to beat Berquist, 55% to 45%.