When did the American left become such sissies? We are shocked, shocked! We throw up our hands in horror, cowering behind prissy words like “divisive” and “sexist” and “uncivil” and “inappropriate” when frothing-mad homophobic Republican smut-emailers like New York governor candidate Carl Paladino hurls verbal excrement at gays, or serial philanderer Newt Gingrich insults President Obama as a treasonous Kenyan mole for “the ideology of Luo tribesmen,” or someone in Jerry Brown’s campaign calls Meg Whitman a “whore” or a Colorado billboard accuses Obama of being an Islamist suicide bomber as well as a gay Mexican bandit.
“Sickmaking” and “the worst I’ve ever seen,” my friends call the current wave of corporate-financed attack ads.
A little perspective, please.
We Americans have a wonderfully slimy history of “negative campaigns” that goes back to George Washington in 1789 if not even earlier to Plymouth Rock Puritans who probably accused each other of unChristian heresies if not downright bestiality.
To refresh our memories: In 1800 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, once warm friends, tore each other apart because President Adams found himself running against candidate Jefferson. Adams’s hacks called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived…son of a half-breed Indian squaw sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” (Race mattered even then.) Jefferson’s PR man, a proto-Karl Rove, slammed Adams as a “repulsive pedant” and “hideous hermaphroditical character.” That’s before the mud slinging got really ugly, Tom labeling John as a hypocrite, criminal and tyrant anxious to drag us into war with France and John calling Tom a sex-mad atheist and coward.
Mud stuck, and Tom stole – er, won – the election. A few years later John Quincy Adams was called a pimp, and Andrew Jackson’s wife a slut and his mother a Negro-loving prostitute. Davy Crockett accused Martin van Buren of wearing women’s corsets. Of course Abe Lincoln was for slave-loving Democrats the “gorilla tyrant” — and he had stinky feet too. In the 1884 election Republicans accused nominee Grover Cleveland of fathering and abandoning an illegitimate child with the party slogan “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?” (And when Cleveland won the presidency the Democrats paid back with, “In the White House, ha ha ha!”)
Closer to modern times, Teddy Roosevelt running against obese William Howard Taft called him “a rat in a corner,” and William McKinley’s supporters tagged candidate William Jennings Bryan a crazy degenerate. In my time, President Roosevelt was compared unfavorably to Hitler, had committed “the crime of the century” by giving Federal money to the jobless, was a demented paralytic cripple and probably Jewish (“Rosenfelt” was a common slur) and had a lesbian wife. It follows that Jack Kennedy had to be the Pope’s captive, Barry Goldwater a dangerously psychotic warmonger, thrice-wounded Lt. John Kerry ‘swiftboated’ as a cowardly liar, and in the 2000 presidential primaries John McCain effectively lost the nomination when South Carolinians were leafleted that he had fathered an illegitimate black baby.
This year, the Supreme Court’s ridiculous Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission ruling that corporations can unload any amount of money on conservative candidates (the real meaning of the court’s decision) has unleashed a tsunami of ugly personal racist ads on the hapless Democrats running for cover.
Dirt is not a GOP monopoly. Lest it be forgotten, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who has led the charge against the Chamber of Commerce’s dirty-secret funding of Republican candidates, himself in 2004 ran a miserably low TV ad attack against the Democratic front runner Howard Dean, merging images of Dean with Osama Bin Laden. The fact is, “claims that 2010 is the most negative election to date may be premature,” reports the Wesleyan Media Project. Compared to 2008 there’s only a “slight” increase in personal attacks.
The point of the Republican ads I’ve seen is to bully voters — to reach deep down into our guts to re-channel our (often justified) rage away from the rich and powerful onto the most vulnerable citizens and their champions. There’s always a barely disguised code, and the code is pure impotent hatred.
What we know of bullies from schoolyard brawls is that they’re never satisfied until you knock them down and step on them, hard. That seems to be beyond the imagination and capabilities of sweet-tempered, passive, over-educated, please-play-nice Obama’s men and women whose Democratic-controlled Congress has just stripped $12 billion from a long term food-stamps program precisely at the time when more Americans than ever literally hunger for such assistance. By the end of next year 10 million homes will be lost to (often fraudulent) foreclosure — ten million! Yet Obama refuses to honor his campaign pledge to declare a moratorium because he fears the bankers’ fury.
The Democrats fold to appease their unappeasable Republican enemies. Across the country, in tight races in Florida, Oregon, Ohio and Colorado, they’re even running away from their own at-risk Democratic candidates who loyally voted for ObamaCare health insurance. Moral: You turn tail from bullies and they chase you into a dark alley and kick you to death.
When did we on the left forget how to fight back in dark alleys and call our enemies what they are, degenerate psychopaths who wear women’s corsets, have smelly feet and hermaphroditic tendencies?
(Clancy Sigal is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)