Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Slinging mud about slinging mud 

As far as I can tell, American politics has been a tough game for a very long time, even if we had intervals when everything was quite high-minded. Or perhaps before the advent of blogging, the round-the-clock news cycle and the nomination of Robert Bork the mud was slung beyond the ken of most Americans. In any case, unwarranted or barely defensible accusations are all very much in the American democratic tradition.

I'll admit it -- I like political campaigns to look like an ugly bar fight. Since I've reached political maturity -- which was quite recently -- I've not been troubled by slinging of mud. I like the low-grade dirty tricks of local politics (confession: I ripped down a few "Mezvinsky" signs during the fall of 1976, when Jim Leach first won election against that felon) and bare knuckle bashing of heads at the national level.

Sure, like a frat party where people get drunk and naked, rough and tumble politics has as least one drawback -- it can stimulate bad policy, particularly in incumbants. Does anybody honestly doubt that the relentless attacks that weakened the Clinton presidency made it more difficult for that administration to focus on the incipient threat of Al-Qaeda and the unraveling containment of Iraq? If I had my druthers, therefore, I would confine the slinging of mud to matters of character and domestic policy, but I realize that many Democrats would consider that unfair. They think that domestic policy is more important than foreign policy.

As much as I like the mud, I do struggle to explain the constant complaining of candidates that the other guy is slinging mud, or that he "started it." Does anybody other than the true believers think that either Bush or Kerry has done less dirty than the other? Yet there must be value in claiming that the other guy is dirtier (itself a sleazy claim, if you think about it), because both sides do it relentlessly. So who are these Americans who are (i) offended by dirty campaigning, (ii) sufficiently undecided that they will be swayed by an accusation of dirty campaigning, and (iii) stupid enough that they would believe one side's accusations over the other's? This is all a fight for the votes of dumb, indecisive, polite people?

Probably not. I think these accusations of dirty campaigning -- as opposed to the substantive dirty campaigning -- are meant to fire up the base. Just as a savvy coach loves it when the other side talks trash because he can use it to motivate his players, smart campaigners rally their core voters by accusing the other guys of "crossing the line." That's why John Edwards, half of a ticket representing a party that has been claiming for six months that George Bush has made the country less safe, can accuse Dick Cheney of being "un-American" for suggesting that the election of John Kerry would increase the chances of another terrorist attack. No matter how big Edwards' balls are -- and they have to be massive to say what he said -- he can't possibly have believed that he was going to swing one undecided voter. His faux rage was aimed only at firing up the base.

In that same spirit, therefore, I offer this compendium of early and often trash-talking from the Democratic side, lest the Bush base embedded within TigerHawk's slim but elite readership feel insufficiently inspired (via Andrew Hofer):
The next time Kerry calls a heated analysis of his voting record a smear campaign, remember what he and his high-level supporters have been doing the last year and a half:

4/2/03: Kerry calls for a “regime change in the United States.”

6/20/03: John Edwards says: “We have to show this president as the absolute phony that he is.”

9/4/03: Kerry says it “would be wonderful to have a President of the United States who could find the rest of the countries in this hemisphere.”

9/9/03: Kerry says President George W. Bush “behaves like Jefferson Davis on the Confederate flag.”

9/18/03: Ted Kennedy says the Iraq War “was made up in Texas” for political gain.

12/1/03: Howard Dean discusses the “interesting theory” that President Bush was warned about 9/11.

12/2/03: Kerry uses the f-word to attack the President’s Iraq policy.

2/1/04: DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe says the President was “AWOL” from the National Guard.

2/8/04: Former Vice President Al Gore screams that President Bush “Betrayed this country!”

3/10/04: Kerry calls Republicans “crooked” and “lying.”

3/17/04: Kerry accuses President Bush of placing a “target” on the backs of U.S. troops.

4/26/04: Kerry attacks President Bush’s National Guard service three times in one interview, saying the President “can’t even answer whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard”; “can’t even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard”; and “has yet to explain to America whether or not, and tell the truth, about whether he showed up for duty.”

4/28/04: On floor of the U.S. Senate, Frank Lautenberg displays a cartoon chicken and calls the President and Vice President “chickenhawks” who were “AWOL” during Vietnam.

5/7/04: Teresa Heinz Kerry calls the Vice President “unpatriotic.”

5/19/04: Nancy Pelosi calls the President “an incompetent leader” with “no judgment” who “has on his shoulders the deaths of many more troops.”

5/23/04: Senator Tim Johnson compares the Republican party to “the Taliban.”

5/26/04: Gore calls the military’s prison system “Bush’s gulag.”

5/31/04: On Memorial Day, Kerry says President Bush “didn’t learn the lessons” of Vietnam and is putting soldiers “at greater risk.”

6/28/04: Introducing Kerry, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley says the Bush administration worries him more than al Qaeda does.

7/8/04: Kerry calls a group of celebrities the “heart and soul” of America after they call President Bush a “cheap thug who sacrifices our young” and his Presidency “a self serving-regime of deceit, hypocrisy and belligerence.”

7/9/04: Kerry-Edwards Florida Chairman Rep. Kendrick Meek says Jeb Bush “was like bin Laden after the 2000 election.”

7/15/04: Kerry criticizes President Bush for not speaking to the NAACP despite the group’s leaders comparing the President to a Nazi, a confederate, a Taliban member and a Jim Crow segregationist.

7/25/04: Teresa Heinz Kerry says “we have basically given scholarships to potential terrorists to become terrorists.”

7/27/04: Ted Kennedy calls Republicans “false patriots.”

8/2/04: Kerry calls a group of President Bush’s supporters “goons” and Teresa Heinz Kerry says they “want four more years of hell.”

8/16/04: Quoted in Newsweek, Kerry National Security adviser Rand Beers says the President underfunds homeland security because the most targeted areas are in Democratic states.

8/16/04: Senator Tom Harkin calls Vice President Cheney a “coward.”

9/2/04: Kerry responds to the Vice President’s convention speech by saying he served two tours of duty in Vietnam while the Vice President obtained deferments.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 08, 09:48:00 PM:

Very well said, Jack.

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