There is nothing more intense and passionate than when men and women debate political, social, judicial, religious, philosophical and economic issues. Debates have a tenacity to raise voices, evoke feelings and raise the blood levels up a notch. They are also morally stimulating and, at least to me, morally fulfilling (what can I say, I like to joust).
Debates are also designed to show who can stand up under scrutiny, who is principled and how certain ideas, and points of view, can or cannot benefit the individual and well as society as a whole. Thus, it is healthy, eye-opening and gives all food for thought.
To a person who is losing the debate, it can cause him or her to be tempted to stoop low. To stoop to the basest of levels. This happens when he or she reaches down deep inside and then engages in attacking his or her opponent on a personal level. He or she attacks the opponent's personal life, character, being, family and, it has been seen, children. The personal attack, some claim, is designed to "tell the truth" about the debate opponent or "expose him or her as a hypocrite" or whathaveyou. What it really does, however, is the following: 1. It lowers the standards of discussion; 2. It attempts to make the person who is doing the attacking feel superior by pulling the opponent down to the lowest level of humanity; 3. It rationalizes the losing party's attacks and behavior and justifies it; 4. It gives the losing party in the debate the appearance of being full of fear, ill-tempered, ill at ease, childish and insecure.
Politicians like Barney Frank, Howard Dean, Frank Lautenburg, Robert Menendez and Sharpe James have all gone and used the personal attack route to win office, elections and support. There is no question that negative campaigning works, but this method has dire consequences when it goes into the realm of the personal. It can turn a great deal of people off. Interest group leaders such as Kim Gandy of the National Organization Of Women, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, Randal Terry of Operation Rescue, and others, who used the personal attack method, have seen would be supporters literally turn and walk away. It has given would be supporters the impression that these individual leaders and politicians are intolerant, cocky and, at worst, conceited.
The best thing that candiadtes for office and other individuals can do is rise above it all. This is very true when one is getting the brunt of the personal attacks. Let the person doing the attacking expose his or her flaws in their thinking, reasoning, comportment and positions. By doing this, one can win not only elections, but converts as well. That is victory enough.