Topic: Government & Politics

Big Lies on the Campaign Trail
(9/26/2004)

Completely unfounded accusations in election campaigns are an American politics tradition, but that doesn't make them right, admirable or honorable. And when a party is willing to put out an inflammatory lie so ridiculous on its face as to impugn the quality of the cerebral cortex of any citizen who would believe it, one has to question any assertion that party makes in the future about anything. This is the only reasonable reaction to a recent mailing sent out by the Republican party to the voters of Arkansas and West Virginia which included a picture of the Bible labeled "BANNED" and the statement "This will be [Arkansas or West Virginia] if you don't vote."

A GOP spokesperson, who should seek other employment, lamely argued that the letter referred to activist judges who want to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. She was apparently unaware of the fact that the words "under God" are not the entire contents of the Bible, which is a book, and saying that something doesn't belong in the Pledge is not the same as "banning" it. For example, I don't think the lyrics to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" should be kept out of the Pledge, but I wouldn't advocate banning the song, being an Academy Award winner and all, not to mention B.J. Thomas's last hit and the theme from one of my favorite Westerns.

But I digress.

The letter is outrageous and inexcusable. It is a blatant lie. It is designed to frighten people who are civically ignorant (The Constitution is quite clear on the fact that you can't ban books, and even clearer on the fact that you can't ban the Bible, through the same provision that makes "under God' a dubious addition to the Pledge of Allegiance.), and it's not nice, or ethical, to set out to confuse ignorant people.

The New York Times article by David Kirkpatrick that chronicled the GOP's admission that it was responsible for the letters explained the party's motive for the dishonest ploy. It was apparently an effort to mobilize the evangelical vote, which is an insult to evangelicals if there ever was one. But it doesn't matter what the motive was. No motive justifies a political party making a statement that is so completely without basis in fact. An effective election monitoring system would have penalties for this sort of thing. John Edwards has called for President Bush to condemn the letter, and he is right, but that should only be the beginning. Bush should fire everyone that had a hand in the letter, and if that includes "Bush's Brain," Carl Rove, so be it. If nobody's head rolls down the hall after this, the Republicans must be willing to accept a public assumption that anything coming out of the GOP campaign could be a total fabrication. That's an awfully high price to pay for such a silly campaign ploy.

"Bush Fires Brain" would be one great headline, don't you think?

While not stooping as low as the Republicans with their Bible-ban whopper, the Democrats have a baseless campaign theme of their own that gets extra dishonesty points for its persistence, longevity, and the fact that everyone from candidates Kerry and Edwards down to the lowliest Democrat blogger has repeated it. That is the canard that Halliburton has received special access to government contracts in Iraq because of Vice-President Cheney's former service there as CEO, and that both the company and Cheney have "profited from the sacrifices of American soldiers" as a result. Party chairman Terry McAuliffe has pushed this theme for about six months, undeterred by the fact, as reported in the Washington Post, Newsweek, the Times and elsewhere, that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever…zero, nada, zilch…that this is true, might be true, or even a reasonable supposition.

There is, however, strong evidence that it is a load of hooey; for example, there is the recent news that the Halliburton subsidiary providing the military and oil field services in Iraq has been a loss leader for the company, suppressing its stock price and generally dragging it down a financial sinkhole. In fact, Halliburton is trying to sell KBR, which has not just failed to profit from its Iraq activities, but also been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by them. As for Cheney, Senator Kerry's assertion that the deferred income Halliburton owes him from his 5 year tenure at the helm constitutes a "conflict of interest" is complete nonsense. The money goes into a blind trust, and it was owed to Cheney when he left the company. Nothing requires a public official to forgo money he has already earned under a valid contract, nor should it. Kerry's further statements that Cheney "profits" from Halliburton's Iraq contracts are even more dishonest. To the extent that KBR has lost money and lowered Halliburton stock value, it is more likely that Cheney's finances have been hurt by the contracts.

As with the GOP's Bible letter, Democrats persist in the Halliburton attacks, not because they think they are true, but because they know the financially and legally unsophisticated (a much larger group than the civically ignorant, I hope) will fall for the lies. It doesn't bother the party, apparently, that the smear has injured a large American company that does important work and employs many hard-working citizens. Halliburton's current CEO, David Lesar, is understandably frustrated by the attacks on his company, and said that his employees "don't deserve to have their jobs threatened for political gain." He's right. But he shouldn't hold his breath waiting for the Democrats to halt a successful fiction that has sent the Vice-President's approval ratings into the 35% percent range.

What they should do, of course, is apologize. But as long as neither party sees any reason to play fair, respect voters, and avoid intentional falsehoods, that is unimaginable. It seems that there is only one thing the two parties will be truly sorry about, and that is losing. With such an unethical mindset from their leaders, the public has lost already.

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