All negative, all the time

ALL NEGATIVE, ALL THE TIME…. In May, as the McCain campaign was beginning to gear up for a general election against Barack Obama, Cindy McCain told NBC, “What you’re going to see is a great debate. Which is what the American public deserves. None of this negative stuff, though. You won’t see it come out of our side at all.”

With the benefit of hindsight, the claim is almost hilarious.

The McCain campaign has now shifted virtually 100 percent of his national ad spending into negative ads attacking Obama, a detailed breakdown of his ad buys reveals.

By contrast, the Obama campaign is devoting less than half of his spending on ads attacking McCain. More than half of its spending is going to a spot that doesn’t once mention his foe.

Before last week, the McCain campaign was spending about half of its ad money on the silly “Original Mavericks” ad. That’s been replaced with a new spot that attacks “Obama and his liberal allies” in Congress for favoring “massive government.”

With about a month to go, McCain just doesn’t have anything to say. His ideas are discredited, his agenda has already been exposed as a failure, and his central message changes from day to day. Complicating matters, he’s losing.

Left with nothing else, McCain has decided to not only lie relentlessly, but lash out wildly.

I’m not saying this will fail. For all I know, constant dishonesty and blanketing the airwaves with nothing but attack ads is a recipe for success. There are plenty of undecided voters, and we all know all too well that attack ads can shift voters’ attitudes quickly.

But I’m reminded of something Bill Clinton said a few years back: “If one candidate is trying to scare you, and the other one is trying to make you think, if one candidate’s appealing to your fears, and the other one’s appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.