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My opponent is a bum

Stephen Tuttle - October 18th, 2010
My Opponent is a Bum
All right. We get it.
All the candidates currently advertising on television are bums. We
know this because their opponents have told us over and over and over
again ad nauseam.
Northern Michigan’s congressional candidates are terrible. Dan
Benishek wants to raise our taxes a staggering 23% and destroy
Medicare and Social Security. His opponent, Gary McDowell, wants to
assess and/or raise taxes on pretty much everything and, even worse,
he wants to “join” Nancy Pelosi in Washington. Oh, my God.
The gubernatorial race is equally distressing. Virg Bernero is a big
taxer and he single-handedly caused Lansing’s unemployment to
skyrocket. And, apparently, he has an aquarium. Rick Snyder, his
opponent, destroyed Gateway Computers after having outsourced
thousands of jobs and making millions in the process.
We are doomed.
It’s possible there has been some hyperbole involved in the
advertising. Benishek’s one-time lukewarm nod to a point-of-sale
national sales tax presupposes the elimination of the IRS and most
other taxes. Gary McDowell has no desire to tax everything nor will
he have the ability to tax anything. As for “joining” Nancy Pelosi,
since she will still be in Congress, both Benishek and McDowell want
to join her in Washington.
Virg Bernero’s now infamous aquarium was actually installed by the
mayor before the mayor before Bernero. It’s in the reception area and
has become quite an attraction for visiting school children. Rick
Snyder didn’t do anything, good or bad, by himself at Gateway. There
were other decision-makers including a board of directors.
To be fair, most of the ugliest commercials have been perpetrated not
by the candidates themselves but by independent expenditure efforts
from third party groups. We’ve had ads from the Koch brothers,
Americans for Prosperity, both the Democratic and Republican
Congressional Campaign Committees, the Republican Governor’s
Association, the Michigan Democratic Party Central Committee, a couple
of unions and the American Futures Forum -- an Iowa-based outfit using
the same communications guru who gave us the Willie Horton ads that
helped doom Michael Dukakis (among many other things) and the Swift
Boat attack ads that crippled John Kerry’s presidential bid.
Third party advertising, nearly all of which is negative this cycle,
is all the rage. These groups cannot, by law, have any connection or
undertake any coordination with the candidates they help. The real
problem here is the lack of disclosure. They need not tell us who is
contributing to their groups so we don’t know who’s trying to impact
our elections.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been accused of using contributions
from foreign sources to finance their third party campaign efforts. If
true, the influence of such foreign funding designed to influence and
shape our government should give all of us pause.
These negative ads are ugly in tone and appearance on purpose. The
jump-cuts, the black and white photos, the harsh sound effects
including the voice-overs, the exaggerations and half-truths, are all
intended to put you in a bad mood so you will think unpleasant
thoughts about the candidate being attacked. The crap we’re now being
subjected to is actually the result of a significant amount of
research. If we didn’t respond to it they wouldn’t do it.
Negative campaigning is as old as the country and in the good old days
the rhetoric and accusations were far more severe than is the case
today. During early campaigns, entire newspapers sprang up overnight
for the sole purpose of defaming an opponent. Thomas Jefferson
famously funded just such a paper directed at John Adams, accusing him
of, among other things, fathering children out of wedlock and being
loyal to the king. Lincoln was called an ape, ape-man, baboon, chimp,
idiot, embarrassment, disaster... the list of insults was almost
(In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that in my three
decades of campaign communications work I might have indulged in a
negative ad or two myself. Only when absolutely necessary, though.
None of that gratuitous rhetorical violence. Uh-huh.)
There are almost no limits on what some candidates will say to
disparage opponents. I’ve seen and heard campaign materials that are
profoundly disturbing. In fact, I thought I had seen just about
everything. Until, that is, a friend of mine received a letter paid
for by the Michigan Republican Party. It was at a different level
This horrible bit of business comes in the form of a letter using a
font made to look like cursive handwriting. It starts “Dear Friend”
and then details the murder of Adam McIntosh and the subsequent plea
deal given his killer. The author is none other than Deb McIntosh, the
dead man’s mother.
Mr. McIntosh, then 26, was murdered by a gang member in 2006 in Flint.
His parents are displeased by the plea deal given his killer and
dismayed by an alleged promise, unfulfilled, made by the prosecutor to
go after two others involved. That prosecutor is now running for
Attorney General. Ms. McIntosh does not want us to vote for him and
she is perfectly willing to invoke the name and memory of her dead son
to convince us. The letter even contains a photograph of what appears
to be a younger Adam McIntosh. The Michigan Republican Party paid for
the mailing.
Nobody other than those who have
suffered the same horror as the McIntosh family can possibly
understand the grief and anger that accompany such a thing. One
assumes this is a deep wound that
never fully heals. Anyone with a heart grieves for their loss.
But there should be lines, even in politics, which are not crossed.
Using a murdered son as chum to appeal to the basest instincts of
voters is one of those lines.

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