Section: Spin U
As noted previously, personal attack ads are common in politics. There are several aspects of personal attacks that make them misleading. Frequently, personal attacks that are often found in political elections are a type of logical fallacy referred to as an Ad Hominem argument—attacking the person instead of the person’s argument. However, the major problem with all attack ads is they don’t attempt to inform or reason with you. Rather, they attempt to appeal to your emotions. ??The Impartial Review News" recently reviewed an example of a personal attack ad by Presidential candidate Mitt Romney which attempted to portray President Obama as too cool. In this article, we’ll give another example of an attack ad with the “Stretch” campaign ad (see above) used by President Obama’s campaign.
According to fact check, this ad is correct in it’s assertion that Mitt Romney pays less in taxes than most Americans. This point may surprise some Republicans because for many years, Republicans have been arguing that many Americans don’t pay taxes. However, this argument is misleading because those statistics don’t include payroll taxes. If you include payroll taxes, most Americans do pay taxes. Also, Americans with cars pay an 18.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline. As noted by factcheck, earners in the lowest quintile have an effective tax rate (which is calculated by dividing taxes paid by total income) that is significantly higher than the rate of the top quintile. Democrats frequently argue for progressive tax rates which attempt to create tax rates where all taxpayers have a similar effective tax rate and those who use more government services (e.g., landowners) pay higher rates that reflect their use of those services. In contrast, many Republicans frequently argue for taxes that are the same for everyone.
The ad goes on to argue that Mitt Romney wants a lower tax rate for wealthy people like himself and a higher one for the middle-class. In other words, the ad accuses Mitt Romney of being selfish. However, Mitt Romney has a position that is similar to many other Republicans. He believes that lower taxes for those who make their money through investing creates jobs. Romney has stated the purpose of his proposal is to create jobs. He hasn’t stated he is doing it for selfish reasons. The attack ad doesn’t argue with Mitt Romney’s reasoning or claim that he was being dishonest when he claimed he was trying to create jobs. Instead, it merely ignores the existing evidence and argues that Romney is attempting to pay off the debt by raising other people’s taxes and not his own.
Similar to most attack ads, it doesn’t attempt to inform the viewer. The ad doesn’t debate tax policy, paying off the debt or job creation. Instead, it attempts to create the impression that Mitt Romney is selfish based on an argument that lacks supporting evidence. To be fair, the ad does bring up one policy issue. It points out that Mitt Romney wants to keep wealthy people’s taxes lower while raising taxes for some middle-class Americans and it contrasts that idea with President’s Obama’s idea of increasing taxes on the wealthy. However, the ad doesn’t explain how keeping taxes lower for the middle-class will create jobs or stimulate the economy. Rather, the purpose of the ad seems more directed at attacking Romney as a person. Toward this end, it includes unflattering pictures of Mitt Romney.
The bottom line is don’t use personal attacks ads to make decisions about someone. Personal attack ads are uninformative at best.
by Todd Miller
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