In Defense of Meg Whitman.

My main objection to Meg Whitman's campaign for California governor has been the way she has been an exemplar of the "I'm not a politician, I'm a businessperson" argument, which is one of my pet peeves. I will say one thing about her -- the $150 million or so she's dropping on this race should give a boost to California's economy. But I've got to rise to her defense for what just happened to her.

As you might have heard, Whitman and her opponent Jerry Brown got up on a stage with Matt Lauer, who asked the two this: "In one week left, would either of you, or both of you, be willing to make a pledge that you would end the negativity?" Brown sort of said yes, but Whitman wouldn't take the bait. For which, of course, she was criticized, and even booed by the crowd.

But this is a bum rap. First of all, the California governor's race has been mild -- an undocumented housekeeper here, a potty-mouthed aide there, but nothing really brutal. Second, just because an ad is "negative" doesn't make it wrong. You can have "negative" ads that are perfectly truthful and fair, and concern important policy issues. Most of them may not be, but they can be. And whatever else you can say about her, Whitman hasn't been unusually negative.

Seeing an opportunity, Brown turned around and made an ad out of the exchange:

Guess what: This is a negative ad! It's an ad about why Meg Whitman doesn't deserve Californians' votes. Is it unfair? No. Is it untrue? No. Is it relevant? Not particularly. Of course, Whitman could condemn Brown for his negativity in trumping his desire to eliminate negativity and criticizing her for failing to eschew negativity. But that would be negative.

-- Paul Waldman

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