WE'VE SEEN IT many times before in politics throughout the world—the spin, smear tactics, and sensationalism that are so prevalent in the months leading up to a big election. These tactics are often considered just "politics as usual." An article in Newsweek magazine recently observed, "There has long been a dark side to democratic politics, a willingness to play on prejudice, to get men and women to vote their fears and not their hopes." The commentary goes on to say that these fears are "embers for cunning political operatives to fan into flames" (May 5, 2008).

So, what is it that makes the use of these strategies in politics so common, even apparently inevitable? Why would anyone choose to employ such methods in the campaign process—especially since polls often suggest people are tired of all the mudslinging? It occurs to me that the primary culprit is not a person or a political party, but fear itself. As the Newsweek article implies, fear is the basis for the vulnerability and attraction of the public to sensationalism. But I think, too, that fear is generally what causes individuals to practice these maneuvers in the first place.

A lot seems to be on the line in an election—power, responsibility, and the welfare of a nation. With so much at stake, it may appear expedient for political candidates to use just about any method available to gain ground against the competition, or otherwise be at a big disadvantage. They may rationalize that the ends justify the means, or feel that they don't have any other choice but to fight fire with fire. But this reaction stems from fear of not being able to maintain a competitive edge, of losing control to the opposition—and seems to justify behavior that is actually unnatural.

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Testimony of Healing
August 4, 2008

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