Opinion: Smear tactics

Illustration Illustration

Illustration Illustration

By Alan Xiang

People often speak of two Americas: rich and poor, secularist and theocratic, black and white, Democratic and Republican. Taking strong stances on the issues without alienating the other side of the political divide is a difficult balancing act. Ideally, our next president will be the best uniter of these groups.

With the country so polarized, bridging the political divide often is an impossible task. Sen. John Kerry’s opponents have labeled him a flip-flopper for trying.

But there is another, less mentioned two Americas. One group cares about the issues and is turned off by distractive mudslinging. The second group is roused only by scandal and negative campaigning. This group rarely digs for the truth among the rhetoric.

Perhaps that’s why Republicans focused their campaign effort on uniting political and apolitical Americas instead. To pull it off, a candidate must smear his opponent without coming off as a bully. The Republicans have made it a science.

First, there were the Swift boat ads. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are a 527 group, formed to influence the election with the benefit of federal income-tax exemptions on contributions. They allege Kerry lied to earn his medals in Vietnam, but the claims have been discredited by official documentation and conflicting reports from veterans who actually served with Kerry.

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“It’s a pack of lies,” former swift-boat skipper Wade Sanders said, “They should be called ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Bush.’ “

The Swift Boat Veterans ads are financed primarily by two longtime friends of the Bush family. Bush advisor Kenneth Cordier resigned after appearing in an ad. Bush general counsel Benjamin Ginsburg resigned after it was discovered he was advising both groups. While both the Bush campaign and the Veterans deny cooperation (which would be illegal), the evidence strongly suggests the Swift Boat Veterans are a front for the Bush administration.

The benefit of this arrangement is two-fold. 1) It allows the Bush campaign to exploit loopholes in campaign finance law. 2) It allows the Bush administration to sling disingenuous insults at Kerry with minimal risk to its reputation.

Exhibit two is Zell Miller’s hateful tirade against Democratic straw men at the Republican National Convention. Debate is impossible when one side misrepresents the other’s argument. It began with the assertion “our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat’s manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief.” Apparently, free elections during times of war are unpatriotic.

He then goes on to say, “motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today’s Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator.” In a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted in April, 71 percent of Iraqis surveyed said they perceive our troops as occupiers instead of liberators (www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-04-28-poll-cover_x.htm.) Bush has acknowledged this when he said, “I wouldn’t want to be occupied either.” Accepting this isn’t an act of treason against the United States.

Miller later claimed Democrats want to outsource our national security and let Paris decide when we need defending. He even asked if Kerry plans to defend the country with spit balls and called him “more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure” in the past 20 years. He failed to add he voted with Kerry on most of the legislation that he mentioned.

After coordinating the strikes, the Bush campaign distanced itself from the hatchet men (no one likes a bully). “I don’t know that we share that point of view,” First Lady Laura Bush said of Miller’s speech. Isn’t it strange how Republicans are allowing people who “disagree” with their candidate to make keynote addresses at the RNC? But a GOP lobbyist said in a Sept. 3 Washington Post article, “Everyone read the speech in advance and approved it.” Similarly, Bush has called for reform against 527 groups in general because of political pressure but hasn’t set the record straight by denouncing the Swift Boat lies.

These attacks have impacted the polls more than political debate. Bush now holds a double-digit lead over Kerry. Until a greater share of U.S. citizens begin to vote based on more than what they learn from a 30-second smear ad, negative campaigning will persist. The next two months are going to get ugly.

Alan Xiang is a sophomore in engineering. His column runs alternate Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].