- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Let's do a little sorting out about the phony debate now going on about "negative campaigning," which is fast becoming the cardinal sin in the presidential race, at least according to Democratic Party spokesmen.
First, let me remind the liberal campaigners against "negative campaigning" that one of the most distinguished liberal Supreme Court justices in modern times, William O. Douglas, once wrote a decision which justified anything and everything in political campaigning, even lying. I am referring to a case known as Ginzburg vs. Goldwater (396 U.S. 1049, 1051-1052, 1970). One sentence from the decision is of great relevance:
"Extravagant, reckless statements and even claims which may not be true seem to me an inevitable and perhaps essential part of the process by which the voting public informs itself of the qualities of a man who would be president."
In other words, Mr. Justice Douglas was telling the American people that the lies which were disseminated in 1964 against Barry Goldwater during his campaign for the presidency against Lyndon Johnson were harmless.
For example, when several hundred psychiatrists who had never met Sen. Barry Goldwater signed a statement saying that he was psychically unfit to be president of the United States they were merely helping the American voting public, as Mr. Justice Douglas might have said, to "inform itself of the qualities of a man who would be president." One could interpret such an action by psychiatrists as not science but rather character assassination. After all, these scientists had never examined Mr. Goldwater nor did they have the benefit of a valid scientific diagnosis by a reputable psychiatrist upon which to base their "findings" before issuing their own "diagnosis."
Imagine the reaction during the 1996 campaign had a coven of psychiatrists issued a finding, based on nothing more than President Clinton's recorded private behavior as a public official, that he was medically unfit to be president.
I do not hold with the Douglas doctrine. I don't think that "claims which may not be true [are] an inevitable and perhaps essential part" of the democratic process. Such a credo would legitimize the behavior of a Joseph McCarthy. But accusations which are fully documented against a campaigning presidential candidate or against a sitting president are legitimate.
There is a moral difference between positive and negative campaigning. For example, suppose Mr. Clinton were running for his second term. Would it be negative campaigning to raise the question of character? It seems to me once you put a "ban" on "negative campaigning," are you not infringing on freedom of press and speech? If candidates are to be condemned for "negative campaigning" even if the speech contents are true then why is negative "campaigning" by the press not to be condemned? Adam Clymer is within his rights to expose Gov. George W. Bush. So why isn't that negative campaigning? Is it "negative campaigning" to track down Mr. Bush's Yale scholastic record to show him as a "playboy" and positive campaigning when Marty Peretz, New Republic publisher and onetime Harvard professor, tells the world what a brilliant student Al Gore was at Harvard?
The campaign against "negative campaigning" is let's say it loud and clear a pre-emptive strike by Mr. Gore and the Democratic Party to inhibit any discussion of Pagoda-gate, how Mr. Gore raised campaign money through hanky-panky dodges and how he and Mr. Clinton peddled the Lincoln Bedroom and whatnot to the highest bidder. I'm sure Mr. Bush won't allow himself and his campaign to be bullied into a defeatist silence.

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