Reminder: Not all attack ads are created equal

Bernie Sanders is out with a new ad in advance of Sunday’s Democratic primary debate, and CNN is suggesting that it breaks Sanders’s promise to not run a negative campaign.

Here’s the ad, titled “Two Visions”:

Without mentioning Hillary Clinton by name, Sanders clearly implies that his main opponent in the race can’t be trusted to take on Wall Street, invoking her line from the previous debate that “everybody should” love her — including corporate America.

Clinton’s campaign, for their part, is not amused:

Two Visions, screenshot via YouTube

Two Visions, screenshot via YouTube

Here’s the thing: This ad is clearly an attack on Hillary Clinton, but it also isn’t the black-and-white/minor key horror movie scandal-mongering that we generally think of when we hear the term “negative campaign.” The Clinton campaign’s claim that Sanders shouldn’t have run this ad because he “said he was a different kind of politician” means that any criticism of Hillary’s proposals to regulate Wall Street (or her proposals on pretty much anything, for that matter) coming from Sanders is out of bounds. That doesn’t make sense.

Bernie Sanders has a substantive disagreement with Clinton over how to regulate the financial sector, and he has a substantive disagreement with Clinton over the corrupting influence of money in politics. These are differences that he’s consistently outlined in prior Democratic debates, and in that context they were considered substantive. As in, not unfair smears.

Speaking of unfair smears…

At the end of the day, if all negative ads looked like that, our politics would be a whole lot less cynical. In reality, the offense the Clinton campaign is taking to “Two Visions” suggests that they’ve got some actual, old fashioned negative ads cued up, and were waiting for a pretext in which they could say that Sanders hit them first.

You know, ads that look like this:

It was more or less inevitable that if and when the Democratic primary tightened (particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire) what started as a friendly exchange of ideas would get more than a little bit pointed. But let’s step back for a second: Republican candidates have declared one of their frontrunners to be a Democratic plant, another to be a financial delinquent and a third to be disqualified from the race altogether due to their foreign birth. Sanders’s ad contrasting his credentials for regulating Wall Street with Clinton can be fairly described as an attack, sure, but not all attacks are created equal.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • bejammin075

    If Hillary Clinton believes it is fine to take millions of $ from Wall Street, how can she think this is a negative ad? It’s just a difference in opinion on style. Bernie’s style is to not take their money. Hillary’s style is to get paid $10,000 per minute, over and over, for “speeches”.

  • Ol’ Hippy

    We see what the other side does. These two are actually civil and only pointing differences of policy. When the rhetoric turns into ad hominem attacks will we see the true colors, as with the GOP. Just make sure you VOTE, our civil liberties are at stake.

  • noGOP

    “Nobody thinks Hillary is going to do that do they?”

    many pretend to, but they all know better.

  • I really like Sen. Sanders. I am fearful that he will simply not be allowed to be the candidate.
    If he is the candidate , look for another Florida. The rightwing played their cards brilliantly with President Obama on many levels. On one hand they claimed he would not talk with them and on the other they dug their heels in and refused to compromise taking the obstructionist path . They had their cake and ate it too. A Sanders presidency would with little doubt see these efforts doubled and tripled. If the American people do not stand together , it is doubtful anything is going to change much without the rightwing throwing as many wrenches into the fix to make any legislation as unsuccessful as possible and simply stand back and proclaim that they warned us. Divide and conquer is working wonderfully for the wingnuts. I hope we get a break.

  • Knottwhole

    Damn John.
    How can you even type CNN?
    Hillary is worried. That’s all it is.
    Secretly, I hope she’s scared shitless. Better chance for a total meltdown.

  • BearEyes

    Bernie is pointing out differences in POLICY. That’s what discourse should look like. On a scale of 1 to 10 (most negative), this ad doesn’t even break a 1. Hills knows the Bern is gaining and is lashing out accordingly. Meh.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    It sure didn’t seem negative. I feel it’s a good thing when a politician points out the difference between themselves and their opponents.

  • nicho

    Team Hillary going on the attack. She’s slipping, and things are going to get real nasty. This is her last hurrah, and she’s not going to let it get away from her if she can help it. Her attacks on Bernie will make her racist attacks on Obama pale by comparison.

  • Don Chandler

    Nothing negative about that Sanders ad. He wants to break the banks up and make them play by the rules. Nobody thinks Hillary is going to do that do they?

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