More Mudslinging, Please!

Politicians are supposed to tell unpleasant truths about their opponents.

"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Perhaps your mother told you this when you were young, maybe while paddling your little backside for being mean to your sister.  And it's not a bad rule, ordinarily.  Politeness and manners are the social lubricant that keep us from killing each other; if we always said exactly what we thought of everyone we met, there'd be a lot of angry people around - well, even more than there already are.

But there are situations in which being nice with your words is actually not nice at all, to someone else.  If you learned that your neighbor was a convicted pedophile, would you tell your other neighbors who have children to keep them away from his yard?  Yes, you'd be saying something very mean, but it would be something true, which if left unsaid could cause grievous harm to innocents.

It's in this context that we should look at the attacks of Obama and his allies in the mainstream media on John McCain's campaign: they cast him as an irredeemably negative campaigner, doing nothing but slinging mud against The One, the sainted President-in-waiting Barack Obama.

John McCain was once the darling of the media; how could it be that he has regressed into such dirty politics?  Why cannot we keep the campaign on a nice, civil track of respectfully discussing the issues?  The recent cartoon by the Washington Post's cartoonist, Tom Toles, which we reproduce here, graphically illustrates this argument: John McCain was once an honorable, upstanding clean campaigner, but now he is wallowing in the mire and therefore deserves to lose.

This is not just a lie, although it certainly is that; Barack Obama has been every bit as negative about John McCain as the reverse.  Far worse than a simple factual untruth, the meme of "negative campaigning is bad" has the potential to completely destroy the environment of political debate and enable our corrupt and venal politicians, in collusion with the media, to continue to cover over their wrongdoing.

Is It True?

Mudslinging in political campaigns has a long history, going back to the founding of our republic.  CNN talked about the 1800 campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson:

Things got ugly fast. Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."  In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."  As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was "one of the most detestable of mankind."

It's obvious today that these charges were false: Thomas Jefferson was one of the greatest Americans ever to sit in the White House, as far from being "one of the most detestable of mankind" as it's possible to get; the discussions of his genealogy were equally ludicrous.

In theory, modern journalism is supposed to at least attempt to prove charges before making them.  Sometimes, indeed, journalism is reluctant to sling mud even when the mud is proven correct; both Bill Clinton and John Edwards had the stories of their extramarital escapades broken by alternative media, the mainstream media only reporting their behavior once everybody was already talking about it.  The harsher the charge, though, the more thorough the proof needs to be.

It's in this area that the media has fallen down most profoundly.  John McCain stands accused of negative campaigning, but no journalist deigns to explore whether his charges against Obama are true.

Was Obama, in fact, closely associated with the terrorist Bill Ayers?  It's been abundantly proven that he was, for many years, but you won't find it reported in the media.

Did Obama, in fact, oppose a bill outlawing infanticide?  In the last presidential debate, he said that was so obviously ridiculous that it needed no response; but McCain's accusation happens to be true, as has been thoroughly documented by those involved with the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act.

Is that mudslinging?  Or is it telling the American people something they ought to know?

Is It Relevant?

Which leads to another aspect to mudslinging, and that is: even if the mud being slung is true, why should we care?  We saw Bill Clinton use this shield to spectacular effect with all the "bimbo eruptions" leading up to Monica Lewinsky.  As citizens, we care about taxes, foreign policy, laws, and so on, the argument goes; what difference does it really make to us what the president does in the privacy of the Oval Office with a consenting adult?

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Unless you suffer from multiple personality disorder, your private life and your public life are unbreakably connected.

If a man is willing to break the most sacred vows between himself and his wife who should be his closest friend and confidante, how is it rational to conclude that he will treat his oath of office with any more respect?  As Sam Adams put it, "The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men."  As the private lives of Americans have become more and more degraded, we see more and more public degradation also, to the point where the corruption and venality of Congress has become a byword.

John McCain is not blameless in this regard; he divorced his first wife to marry the younger, prettier, and far richer Cindy.  But there's still a difference; at Saddleback Church, when Pastor Rick Warren asked him what his greatest moral failing was, McCain replied:

My greatest moral failing - and I have been a very imperfect person - is the failure of my first marriage.  It's my greatest moral failure.

And we see that as far as can be found, despite the determined efforts of the mainstream media to prove otherwise, he has been faithful and loyal to Cindy McCain for decades.

As human beings, we all make mistakes; nobody can be perfect no matter how great.  The test of a great man is how they address their weaknesses and correct them going forward.  John McCain did; Bill Clinton didn't.

What has Obama done to fix his clear tendency to associate with evil men?  We don't know; nobody has bothered to ask him.  Perhaps someone should.

An Informed Citizenry

It has become received wisdom that mudslinging campaigns are "bad."  No doubt we can all agree that false mudslinging is bad; there are enough lies in politics already without telling lies about your opponent.  Mudslinging that is true is a completely different matter.

If a politician is corrupt, shouldn't the voters hear about it?

If a politician intends to raise taxes, isn't it fair to tell the people so that they can decide if that's what they want done?

If a politician spends time with unrepentant terrorists and anti-American racist demagogues, how is it inappropriate to ask him to explain himself?

If a politician chooses as his advisers the same individuals who caused our current financial meltdown, why is it wrong to point this out?

Most of all, how can it possibly be said that quoting a politician's own words, and the words of his allies about him, is slinging mud?

The vast majority of American voters will never meet Barack Obama, never have the chance to ask him anything at all, never get a personal feel for what he's like.  Those few who have, like Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher, have lived to regret questioning him.  There is no other way for us to make a wise decision in the voting booth than for leaders of national stature to alert us to the perceived failings of their opponents; nobody else can or will do it for us.

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said:

The diffusion of information and the arraignment of all abuses at the bar of public reason, I deem [one of] the essential principles of our government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration.

Think about it: Thomas Jefferson, after suffering through a horrendously filthy campaign in which he was insulted in ways which might make other men call for pistols at dawn, did not make an appeal for cleaner campaigning.  Far from it: he said that one of the essential principles of our government was for the abuses of politicians to be brought to public light.

The writer of our Declaration of Independence said that mudslinging accusations are not merely permissible, but vital to a free people and a democratic government.

John McCain has not been slinging too much mud.  He's not been slinging enough!

There are very few days left; he must move as much dirt as possible so the American people can hope to see what's buried there out of sight.  We may not get another chance.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
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