If you can't say anything nice about somebody, you must be in politics.
Or so it seems as November approaches and voters are inundated by a blizzard of negative campaign ads, with often ugly charges and even uglier counter-charges, delivered via television, radio, Internet, mail and street signs. Woe to the self-image of the candidate who takes them too personally.
Most people we encountered on the street yesterday don't like the ads much, either. But most aren't denying that they listen. And in many cases these advertisements have an impact.
"Unfortunately, negative ads do work," says Peter Maguire, a retired school principal now working as a docent at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. "People remember them."
He singles out one of the most contentious campaigns, the battle between sitting Congressman John Tierney, a Salem Democrat, and his Republican challenger, former state Sen. Richard Tisei of Wakefield.
"I wish I could remember the good things that Tierney and Tisei have to say, but it seems all I remember is the negative," Maguire said.
Tisei has attacked Tierney over his wife's admission in federal court to helping her brother file false tax returns. The congressman has responded by linking Tisei with conservative Republicans like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.
"They're not getting to the message," Maguire said. "Neither is saying what they want to do. They seem to be intent on bringing each other down."
Jennifer Frye is a Salem resident recently arrived from Utah. Even so, she makes it clear she's not a supporter of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Mormon with strong ties to Utah. Despite that, a look of distaste crosses her face as she sighs, "The other night I saw an (President Barack) Obama commercial and it was pretty negative."