Over at Yglesias' site I find this tidbit and link. Basically, it turns out that Gresham's Law applies to political discourse; over time bad discourse will drive out good. As it happens, if someone has a position about a candidate's favorability, and then adverse information, real or made up, becomes known to that person it will negatively impact their favorability. If the information later turns out to be false or incomplete, the favorability improves, but not all the way back to the point it was at before.
Also, how much your opinion moves depends on your position in the partisan spectrum. Informed that Hillary Clinton is a man-hating power hungry dyke moves Repubs much further towards disliking her than it moves Democrats. The converse, being told that Mitt Romney is a goat fucker, moves Dems further away than Repubs (many of whom have probably fucked a goat or two in their time, so who would want to cast the first stone).
So what does that mean? Counter punching in response is, over time, a losing move. Obama's campaign has made much of the fact that they have not initiated any of the Clinton/Obama tiffs, but they have not stood aside when it's happened...that they counter punch. I had thought that that was more than adequate. What this study shows is that I was wrong and that isn't good enough. Over time, your positives inexorably erode relative to your goat fucking opponent, whom you have not been adequately slurring. It's why negative campaigns work.
So, it's not enough to simply stand up and fight back (and it's DISASTROUS to "not stoop to their level" as the Kerry campaign incompetently did in 2004). Your ass has to be down in the mud, slinging fast and furious, frequently and with vicious glee. You already see the narrative that the Rovian Repubs are getting ready to trot out; "Hillary is a man-hating, ultra-liberal, vagina dentata destroyer of American Virtue (who had Vince Foster killed)", "Barack Obama is a closet Muslim, trained in radical Madrassahs who will willingly invite jihadis to rape good Christian women", and "John Edwards is a closet fag".
It's going to happen. It is happening, it has happened, it will continue to happen. If we love our country (and with all the torture and human rights violations the Repub Party is "OK" with, I'm beginning to think my four years in the Army were an UTTER waste of my time) we can't just fight back, we have to get down and dirty. We have to say things about our goat fucking opponents FIRST, with two goals; first, to raise their negatives so swayable undecideds go for our guys (or gal), second, (and more importantly) so tar the Repub candidate with nastiness that many Repub voters simply stay home.
That second point provides some degree of Schadenfreude, at least in the anticipation. Because to get Repub voters to sit down, we have to sling slurs at them such as "Rudy is a closet fag." In other words, kill the candidates with the prejudices they've spent 30 years perfecting. Say, "Mitt Romney is a Christian hating cultist," or "Fred Thompson is a Hollywood slut who hops beds with the frequency of a cheap ham radio."
Mike Huckabee is the hardest to get in this way, so I propose that in the (unlikely but possible) event that he receives the nomination, we go the other way. He's a Christo-fanatic who wants to take away birth control, let alone abortion, and who believes the world is 6000 years old. For the Repub base, these are ADVANTAGES. But he's a damn likable guy, so lets just strip off every independent or moderate Repub (presuming there IS such a creature) even marginally concerned about their kids growing up in the Republic of Gilead.
All we have to do is record him speaking, pull out some Young Earth Creationist zaniness, and imply strongly that maybe falling waaaaayyyy behind in technology, science and knowledge isn't exactly the way to go about global competition. We could probably pull every state in the Intermountain West, other than Montana (State Motto: "At least our cows aren't gun toting loons!") and maybe Wyoming.
But...make NO MISTAKE...we have to actually DO it. You might not like "stooping to their level." Tough. I'd rather respect my country than respect myself in the morning. After eight years of Bush, we can't AFFORD ethics. It is indeed time to get nasty.