“Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense.” – Samuel Johnson
We currently find ourselves in the thick of yet another election year, and while each candidate vows to enact a variety of social, economic, and general policy changes should he or she be voted into office, past experience suggests that any promise made by a politician -especially during an election campaign – should be taken with a grain of salt. Every year some politicians, apparently aware of the publics ever increasing skepticism regarding campaign promises, attempt to shift the subject away from their own ideals and policies. Instead they target the missteps and failures of their opponents in an ignorant, fruitless effort to persuade voters to simply not vote for said opponents. While I generally dislike the never-ending stream of modern day campaign assurances, I would much rather listen to a candidate speak about their own beliefs than make harsh, often vague assessments of their adversaries.
In 1759, English writer Samuel Johnson published an essay in which he derided critics of the time for gaining power not through invention or “the labour of learning,” but solely through “judgement…upon the works of others.” One can only assume how Samuel Johnson would respond in today’s society, when just as many candidate campaign television commercials focus on criticism of an opponent as they do on qualities of the actual politician being supported. Unsurprisingly, it seems the same candidates that fail to share Johnson’s opinion on criticism also fail to recognize the overall lack of effect such a strategy possesses. In his own words, “the critic is the only man whose triumph is without another’s pain,” and criticism is “a study at once…so malicious and so harmless.”
Now, I’m not adverse to a little mild criticism by political contenders from time to time – Ronald Reagan’s brilliant reverse criticism by refusing “to exploit for political purposes [his] opponent’s youth and inexperience” comes to mind – but I sincerely hope that someday politicians will realize their scathing critiques of others do more harm to their own candidacy than to anyone else’s.