GOP to Spend Millions Sliming Democrats - And This is News?
But there was the headline on the front page of the Sunday Washington Post: "In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal; Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats" and I was surprised this was deemed significant enough to even make the front section.
So Republicans are going to throw dirt on Democrats? As my nine-year-old son is wont to say these days -- doi! (See also, duh!)
And what headline will we see in next Sunday's Post? If we follow this trend, I'm guessing either "Sun to rise in East tomorrow" or "Republican to say 'cut and run' in campaign speech."
Is there anyone in the world -- much less Democratic operatives or activists -- with access to any form of media whatsoever, who would be surprised to learn that the Republicans are going to spend a ton of money this year to slime and smear their Democratic opponents? With less than two months to go until the midterm elections, we are in big trouble if there's a Democrat left in America who doesn't expect that to happen with the same certainty that Tuesday will follow Monday.
These are the same people who have questioned the courage and patriotism of someone like former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam -- including running ads depicting him next to Osama bin Laden -- and who famously brought out the Swift Boat Liars to smear John Kerry's war record. They've tried to do the same to Congressman John Murtha, who volunteered for Vietnam in 1966 and for his service was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat "V," two Purple Hearts, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.
In the 2000 Republican presidential primary, Team Bush constantly referred to John McCain’s alleged “temper problem” and implied that he was mentally unstable based on his time spent as a POW and Karl Rove was even accused by the McCain camp of spreading rumors, such as suggestions that McCain had committed treason while a prisoner of war.
The GOP has even stooped so low as to slime every Veteran who has ever been decorated for war wounds by donning Purple Heart bandages on the floor of their 2004 national convention to demean John Kerry's Vietnam service -- and they even let lots of people take pictures of them doing it.
Let's face it, if Audie Murphy himself were a Democrat today, the Republican machine would even find a way to smear his military service as well.
Of course, much of this started with the Patron Saint of the Republican party's low-rent campaign tactics, Lee Atwater, who is to GOP gutter politics what Betty Crocker is to cakes. Atwater is still a legend in the party for his 1980 antics in which he went after a Democratic Congressional opponent for depression treatments the candidate had as a troubled teen.
But Atwater's biggest claim to GOP fame came in the 1988 presidential campaign, with the race-baiting "Willie Horton" television spot. Horton was a convicted murderer who had raped a woman while on a furlough from the Massachusetts prison system and -- what do you know? -- he happened to be African-American. So the Republicans snagged a bad mug-shot of him and linked it to Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in every way they could.
But where do you think the Republicans used Horton's visage to the greatest effect? (Remember, think like a scummy, Republican political operative.) Boston? San Francisco? Chicago? Shame on you. They played the primary television ad featuring Horton over and over again in... the South!
And how was Atwater chastised for these obvious breaches of decency in campaigning? He was named chairman of the Republican National Committee.
And don’t think Democratic candidates' families are off limits with this crowd either.
They went after one of their own in John McCain with some unspeakable tactics in 2000, including using “push polling” to ask Southern voters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they "knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child," a reference to McCain’s child, whom he and his wife adopted from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh. But they didn’t stop there. They also circulated rumors that McCain's wife, Cindy, was a “drug addict” due to a problem she had once had with prescription painkillers.
This followed similar stuff in 1988, when the Bush Sr. campaign went after Michael Dukakis by claiming his wife, Kitty, had burned an American flag to protest the Vietnam War, ridiculed her painful travails with prescription drugs and by floated rumors to the media Dukakis himself had been treated for a mental illness.
Republican operatives are also famous for their willingness to doctor photos to send a bogus message about Democratic candidates, including blanketing media outlets in 2004 with a fake photo that showed John Kerry and Jane Fonda sharing a speaker's platform at a 1970s anti-war rally. Their scheme blew up when the photographer who took the original picture of Kerry (on stage alone) came forward to complain about the fake.
But for sheer you've-got-to-be-kidding-me effect, I have to take you back to some GOP-on-GOP smearing in the form of a mailer sent out earlier this year by California Republican Bill Conrad, a candidate for State Assembly, attacking his primary opponent Tom Berryhill for having -- are you ready for this? -- heart surgery and promoting the idea that voters should not support Berryhill because he might die soon.
"Tom Berryhill doesn't have the HEART for State Assembly," says the mailer, which then goes on to list "facts" about the survival rates of people who have Berryhill's surgery and implores voters to consider "…the costs to taxpayers for a special election when poor health renders him unable to fulfill the duties of office."
Have a look at the actual mailer:
So when I read the Washington Post's front page story announcing that "Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues," I again wonder who in the world would be surprised by this.
Democrats running for anything from local dogcatcher to U.S. Senator need to steel themselves for every manner of opposition research and whatever that digging will yield for GOP exploitation and, if nothing else, they need to know that Republicans will always fall by their old standby strategy of simply making things up. They must also be ready to preempt as many attacks as possibly and, if caught by surprise, strike back quickly and with double the brutality -- let no charge go unanswered. If they can answer GOP slime with ridicule at their desperation, so much the better.
So is it even the slightest bit of news that, as the Post reports, the National Republican Congressional Committee plans on spending more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus ad budget on negative ads?
Give me a shout when you see a headline that says "Republicans to run honest, integrity-based campaign."
Now that would be huge news.