Negativity's been given a bad name – in the realm of politics, at least.
In other areas, it remains a valued perspective. "Don't touch that! It's hot!" and "Don't eat that! It's poisonous!" are negative statements with an admirably positive goal: the prevention of injury. Anyone alerted to a hazard in time to avoid it should have a profound appreciation for negativity.
The equivalent in politics is a warning about aspects of a candidate's record that presage injury to the body politic.
For some strange reason, however, over the last few decades a bizarre notion has arisen -- and gained wide acceptance -- that there is something unseemly or underhanded about pointing out the shortcomings of opponents. Candidates never publicize their own deficiencies and the voting public might never be made aware of them if not for "negative" campaigning.
Because it would be foolish to say bad things about themselves or good things about their rivals, candidates in an election have only two options: they can say good things about themselves and they can say bad things about their opponents. That's all most voters have to go on. They have to weigh the good things the candidates say about themselves against the bad things they say about each other.
The revelation of an opponent's mistakes, vices, or hidden agenda is fair and a public service. Without knowledge of such things, voters are unable to make informed decisions.
The Chicago Tribune doesn't get this. The paper reported recently that "negative politics are creeping into" the upcoming retention race of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride. Is the Tribune suggesting that it's wrong for anyone to publicize his controversial decisions or spend money to unseat him?
Kilbride was one of four justices who voted to overturn the state's 2005 cap on medical malpractice awards. That's a fact, a negative one, but a fact voters need to remember in November when they decide whether or not to retain a judge whose views strongly differ from theirs.