Ingraham supports neg. campaigns

by Alison Schmauch | 10/10/00 5:00am

News commentator and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Laura Ingraham '85 addressed the 2000 election in a speech given at the Rockefeller Center yesterday afternoon, saying that voters are not helped by what she sees as two candidates overly sensitized to negative campaigning.

Ingraham said she believes that undue concern regarding this type of campaigning has damaged American political discussion.

For instance, when moderator Jim Lehrer asked Al Gore at the first Presidential debate what he meant when he said that George Bush was inexperienced, Gore evaded the question and said that he had never said such a thing. When Bush responded during his turn, he did not challenge Gore.

According to Ingraham, Gore was obviously lying, as he had openly expressed worries about Bush's inexperience in a New York Times interview.

Ingraham said that this definition of negative campaigning means that much relevant information remains off the public record.

She said that while experience concerning a candidate's experience in office, credibility and character are very important, name-calling is an unacceptable form of campaigning.

According to Ingraham, negative campaigning will likely become more important in such a close race.

Negative tactics have proven crucial in recent presidential elections, as with Reagan attacking Jimmy Carter for a national sense of malaise, President Bush's criticism of Michael Dukakis for being soft on crime, and Bill Clinton's skewering of Bush for failing to keep his "no new taxes" pledge.

While at the College, Ingraham edited the Dartmouth Review during its most controversial days, at one point sending an undercover reporter to a meeting of the Gay Students Association and then publishing a transcript of the meeting with the names of the student officers.

While these battles against what Ingraham viewed as the prevalent liberal orthodoxy were trying at the time -- Ingraham later renounced her former positions on homosexuality in a 1997 Washington Post column -- they did prepare her for her future career as a political commentator.

Ingraham said Bush should capitalize on certain key strengths during these last important weeks before the election.

For instance, Bush needs to talk about elevating the moral tone of politics in the country -- not by focusing on old Clinton administration scandals, but by emphasizing the valor of publicly serving one's country.

According to Ingraham, although the country hesitated to support Clinton's impeachment, the current administration's scandals have negatively impacted people's perceptions of politics.

She said that a certain segment of voters has become completely detached from political concerns. Bush should make a special effort to reconnect with such voters.

In an election when the candidates agree on most of the major issues hotly debated as recently as ten years ago, Ingraham said that the personal charisma, poise and decency Bush exuded earlier in the campaign are particularly important.

According to Ingraham, these traits, rather than his specific stances on issues, enabled Bush to successfully attract female and minority voters earlier in his campaign.

Dick Cheney's dry humor during the vice-presidential debates struck Ingraham as a model for convincing negative campaigning.

When Lieberman criticized Cheney for prospering during the Clinton years, Cheney said, "Not because of the government."

Similarly, when Lieberman talked about his wife's urging him to obtain a lucrative job in the private sector, Cheney said that he would help Lieberman do so.

Such wry humor makes people laugh, yet makes true points about the other campaign, Ingraham said.

Students interviewed afterwards offered positive comments about the speech. Josh Marcuse '04, voicing sentiments shared by many, found Ingraham charismatic and humorous.

While he recognized that she strongly supports Bush, he admired her willingness to criticize the Republican candidate.

Ingraham used the speech to announce her intention to found a memorial scholarship.

The scholarship will be in her mother's name, and grant $10,000 annually, probably to a student who excels in the study of English and Russian -- the fields Ingraham pursued at Dartmouth.

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