Regarding the Home Stretch Mud Slinging Nastiness
Monday, October 30, 2000
I completely enjoyed Mr. Berg-Anderson's Commentary regarding home stretch mud slinging nastiness. He quite accurately informs us that:
Each of us as individuals must decide for whom to cast our vote and as such we are bombarded with every imaginable selling technique human history has produced. What I find particularly annoying is the use of fear to persuade a voter. The sauce for the goose is that, where one side attempts to frighten the elderly, the other side attempts to frighten the young.
Recently we have been exposed to a fear tactic that I find particularly reprehensible. The NAACP's attempt to frighten Americans with an ad depicting the heinous dragging death of a fellow citizen voiced over by that citizen's daughter. I dare say that the majority of Americans do not and will never support the murder of one of our citizens for any reason. This ad, however, implies that the Texas Governor somehow is tormenting the surviving family members by not supporting a "hate crimes" law.
In my view this ad is racism of the most vile. It is a throwback to the pitiful days of Jim Crow with politicians in the south winning by who could scream "nigger" loudest. In this case we are exposed to a political action organization's thinly veiled use of a public service message for clear political purposes as the ad attempts to scream "cracker" the loudest. The NAACP is supposed to be non-partisan and enjoys tax-exempt status as such.
Viewing the ad sickens me to my soul that such a fine and respected organization would use such filthy tactics. The organization has done tremendous good work throughout its history and it is a shame that this one ad could set back much the good that it has accomplished. This ad is not sauce for the goose, it is rather calling a candidate a race hater. No leap in logic need be made. If one does not support a law against "hate crime" then one must therefore support "hate crimes".
We are one America without hyphen and I find it disgusting that some of my fellow citizens dare characterize any candidate as such. As reprehensible as I find this ad to be I am certain the sauce for the gander ad will be far worse. I hope that no sauce for the gander is prepared in response to this blatantly divisive and racist ad. The nastiness is to be expected and that is what provides the comedic relief from the serious business of running for high office.
Let's face it, the mud slinging is like watching a school yard scuffle, and who among us didn't circle around the two big kids on campus when they took to fighting? Why? Entertainment and the distraction enjoyed from the day to day drudgery of life. The NAACP ad however, while distracting, provides no such entertainment as absurd comedy.
On the contrary, the NAACP ad provides absurd tragedy. To a dramatist this is the stuff of good theater as it evokes emotions. Organizations like the NAACP need to extremely careful of the emotions evoked during a political season as those emotions can inspire evil as well as good.
I admit I may be taking this one ad too seriously but is that not the intent of the ad? I can pooh-pooh outlandish claims from all candidates and even find them amusing and entertaining when presented in a comedic light. I find it difficult to dismiss ads that scratch old wounds to inculcate hatred. Well, NAACP, you set the stage for the drama, you choose the tragedy instead of the comedy.
My wonder is, will the NAACP be around to accept, explain, and defend the morality?
Daniel D. Stansbury
Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:
I have not seen the ad to which Mr. Stansbury refers; therefore, I can neither attack it nor defend it (or, for that matter, remain neutral about it) based on my own observations. Assuming, however, that the ad is as reprehensible as Mr. Stansbury says (and I have to take Mr. Stansbury at his word as to the content of the ad: he has, after all, been one of the more thoughtful contributors to the "Vox Populi" section of "The Green Papers" over this past year and I am certain he would not have offered such heart-felt disgust about this ad as he has above if it did not, in fact, contain the images in the very context he describes), then this is- once again- a further example of the kind of dirt and mud that typifies the average American election campaign, particularly toward its end and especially if the race is perceived to be either close or where the side producing such an ad perceives itself as losing a battle it until recently thought it was to win; the type of dirt and mud I have spent three recent Commentaries writing about.
I will, however, make the following comments about that which Mr. Stansbury has written concerning the place of mudslinging in the political process- in this case, the American electoral process: Yes, I do- as Mr. Stansbury suggests- see the humor in the mudslinging, just as I saw humor in the fights at school I myself witnessed as a youth. The reasons for these schoolyard brawls were usually just about as stupid as the alleged reasons for the digging into the history of past drug use by either Governor Bush or Vice President Gore. One could often do nothing but laugh... if only to, however, keep from crying.
For beneath all good humor is pathos; the comedy we perceive more often than not belies deeper tragedy. The schoolyard brawls I witnessed- or even in some cases participated in- usually involved the enforcement of some kind of childhood ritual and/or pecking order that, when viewed rationally, makes very little- if any- real sense. But the child who was, say, the victim of the neighborhood bully on a given day was still traumatized- psychologically scarred- by the bully's actions... and to what end? for what good long-term reason?
Likewise, what we see in the hurling of mud in an election campaign such as this- whether in the form of the ad that Mr. Stansbury cites above or in the silliness of attempting to link Al Gore's scholastic grades to his youthful smoking of marijuana or in the thin veneer of alleged investigative reporting into Governor Bush's military record as a none too subtle cover for the fishing around for that "silver bullet" of cocaine abuse that will, to those so desperately doing the digging, "slay the dragon" at this late hour in the Fall campaign- is comedic because it IS all so silly. Yet it is, at the same time, also tragic because it is all so stupid, counterproductive and- above all- wasteful.
But it all is so tragic, beyond all else, because it all brings American Democracy into disrepute- both at home as well as abroad: abroad, it appalls our Nation's friends and brings comfort to our Country's enemies; in this latter sense, mudslinging is an admittedly lesser degree of treason- for it does "bring aid and comfort" to those outside our borders who would wish to see the American Experiment fail for their own nefarious purposes. We Americans like to see ourselves as a Beacon of Light to areas long touched by Darkness when we are in a particularly magnanimous mood; we like to see ourselves as that City on the Hill living the Right Path which we would like everyone else to live when we are somewhat less than magnanimous; and we try desperately to remain the quintessential Above the Fray when we are not the least above flexing our isolationism as well as our supposed moral superiority.
Americans are usually appalled- and many of us often sneer- at headlines which report "Thousands Killed In Course Of [pick the Third World country of your choice] Elections": whether we are pained by what we read in such headlines or take a more "well, what would you otherwise expect?" attitude toward them, we view such backwaters about the globe as sadly "lacking" in what we like to view as "the necessary traditions of Democracy". Besides the convenience we Americans can enjoy of forgetting that many of those thousands died attempting to exercise a freedom we ourselves take much too often for granted- that of which Marchette Chute called "the First Liberty", the right to vote for representatives in government of our own choosing, the fact remains that this categorizing of nations and states as "lacking the necessary traditions of Democracy" can be both the best defense of a dictator by an Administration which wishes to prop up same as well as the best defense of the revolution which may someday topple that dictator by an Administration which would seek to foment such a revolution.
Well, an American might well argue, WE generally don't try to kill in the course of OUR electoral process. One would, of course, then only be half-right: we certainly don't try to kill potential voters; we DO, however, attempt to assassinate the character of the candidates for higher office and, by this means, also attempt to achieve the end of killing the enthusiasm of potential voters for participating in the election itself. Remember the adage of the proverbial political Boss and his infernal Machine: "A Low Turnout is the Professional Politicians' Best Friend". Low turnouts are much more predictable, malleable, controllable; anything can happen, and frequently does, with a higher-than-usual turnout- putting aside the fact that a high turnout usually reflects the voters' anger and that it would be the incumbents who would usually be the target of the voters' wrath.
The sad fact- and the tragedy underlying the otherwise humorous
antics we observe with a week to go till Election Day- is that it all
merely proves that we Americans have no real reason to tout our alleged
political maturity to the rest of the World. After all, mudslinging-
while to be expected, as Mr. Stansbury correctly gleaned from my
Commentary- has all the political maturity of a gangster ordering a
"hit" on one of his rivals. We Americans may look askance at how
Elections are conducted outside our own Nation, Canada, much of Europe
and such outposts as Australia and New Zealand- we may watch with
varying mixtures of horror and hubris at how Democracy yet struggles in
what we like to think of as "the Developing World"; but- please!- let
us NOT delude ourselves so much that we begin to foolishly think that
we have, in our own Politics, developed so far beyond those whom we
consistently see as lagging behind us.