Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kissing Cousins....

Hope everyone had a jolly and not scowly Christmas feast, with talk of presidential politics kept to a minimum around the groaning board. We managed here in New Jersey to pull this off, with one significant exception, which was a little tiff which exploded into brief bang-up of an argument over whether or not Obama really had enough experience to be president, something I think will be the main thing tossed his way should he get the Democratic nod.
But a few deep breaths and some inhalations of turkey and mashed potatoes calmed this one down.
A few days before Christmas I spoke on the air with WAOK radio jock Shelly Wynters down in Atlanta and took some phone calls about possible dirty tricks coming up. To my surprise, one caller was quite worked-up about the fact that Rudy Giuliani's first marriage had been to his second cousin, something that hadn't even concerned me. When I said Rudy's enemies had much more to throw at poor Rudy than the "cousin thing"--both the caller and Shelly broke out laughing. It was like they were saying, "Dude, you don't know how people really think!" Another caller quizzed me closely to see if I shared his concern that George Bush would not let elections occur next November--some excuse would be made (a faked terrorist attack) to shut down the gov and keep Bush in office under martial law. Rumors like this have surfaced at different times in American history and have always been dismissed as the doggerel of far-far-far out fringe groups. However, I talked with a few friends about this later and found that there are a number of people who really believe in this as a scenario. Despite my credentials as a dirty tricksologist, it never even occurred to me, but then again, it wouldn't occur to me to marry my cousin, either.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Love Child

Well, can anything top Mike Huckabee's kid torturing and killing a dog? How about John Edwards' love child. The National Enquirer is now trumpeting the alleged fact that a former campaign worker for Edwards, Rielle Hunter, is six months pregnant with his child. Edwards has been dodging affair rumors for months; if Rielle does turn out to be carrying a little Edwards, this will trump the Clinton scandals of the 1992 campaign--in fact, many blame the Clintons for spreading this particular piece of dirt, ironically enough. There is a further problem for Edwards in that the story comes with a a further note attached--political operative Andrew Young, close to Edwards, is supposedly claiming he is the father--which seems a transparent cover-up.
Of course, Rielle denies all this adamantly -- not the pregnancy, but the involvement of both Edwards and Young. Is it true? Sans DNA or incriminating photos--remember Senator Gary Hart on the yacht with Donna Rice in 1988?--who can tell. Certainly, love child smears have long been popular, indeed staples, of political smearing. They've been used against Thomas Jefferson, Grover Cleveland, Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Clinton, of course. and John McCain, just to mention a few.
In some cases--Jefferson, Cleveland, Harding--this happened to be true. In others, not. But as I have been saying, it is all getting nastier and nastier, proving the main point of Anything for a Vote: dirty campaigning is not the exception to the rule in American presidential politics--it IS the rule.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rough! Rough!

Well it's all getting nastier and nastier, isn't it, as January 3, 2008 rolls around. No time for holiday cheer. Mitt Romney, was just profiled in the NY Times saying he was inspired by his father, Michigan Governor and 1968 presidential candidate, to run for office. George Romney, if you will remember, said that he had been "brainwashed" by Army officials during a visit to Vietnam, a bit of startling honesty which got him immediately hounded out of the race. Mitt, despite avowed father-worship, does not possess the same startling honesty. A photo sent to numerous news agencies shows him at a 1994 pro-choice fundraiser during his Massachusetts Senatorial race against Teddy Kennedy. His response is that this is old news--sure, he says, he was "pro-choice, or effectively pro-choice," then--love that little qualification--but now is is pro-life. (Effectively pro-life?) His wife wrote a presumably effective check to Planned Parenthood for $150 at about the same time. At least, it didn't bounce.
Hillary is now embarked in her "likability tour" in Iowa, which is sort of pointless. Bill is likable, she's not, except in private, where she apparently can be quite charming. Reminds one of the attempts of Herbert Hoover's Republican handlers to take His Stiffness and turn him into a human being in 1928. Pictures sent to newspapers showed him romping with a large dog. "That Man Hoover--He's Human!" the suggested headlines read. Trying to make candidates into something they aren't is always an iffy proposition. Alf Landon, making his hopeless run against FDR in 1936, was a very likable guy, but Republicans wanted him to seem more authoritative. They hired a film director named Ted Bohn—a forerunner of modern political candidate groomers—to teach Landon not to smile with his mouth hanging open, to walk slightly ahead when in a group in order to dominate pictures, and to shake hands with his chin up to give the impression of firmness. It did no good at all. As Hillary says: “There are people who will never vote for me,” she said. “It breaks my heart, but it’s true.”
The candidate who is the most fun to watch right now is Mike Huckabee. I agree with the Republican strategist who says nominating Huckabee would be "an act of suicide" on the part of the Republican Party, but the fact that someone dredged up the story that Huckabee's son, as a boy scout in 1998, allegedly helped kill a dog (by hanging it and cutting its throat?) is interesting. Huckabee, for the record, has not quite responded to the dog allegations, although he does say: "It was mangy. It was going to attack."
Sort of like Mitt?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gentlemen, Cock Your Pistols

Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday but spent a good deal of time talking about Barack Obama's supposed Muslim religion, pointing out that his middle name is Hussein and that he has Muslim ancestors. This was supposed to be compliment to Barack and may actually have been--Kerry tends to march to the beat of a different drummer--but coupled with another bit of news coming out of Nashville leads me to wonder why Barack doesn't just challenge all those making such sweet comments about his drug use and supposed religion to a duel?
Duels have long ago disappeared from American politics, but the threat of them once continually hung over political discourse in the late 18th, early 19th centuries. In Nashville, they are looking for the body of Charles Dickinson, who was killed by Andrew Jackson in a duel. This in 1806, in a dispute over horse racing, well before Jackson first became president in 1828, but in the 1828 contest against John Quincy Adams Jackson was charged with having fought literally hundreds of duels--in reality, Jackson fought at least two, killing only one man, Dickinson, whose own bullet nearly pierced Jackson's heart. Jackson also carried a bullet in his shoulder from a shoot-out with Senator Thomas Hart Benton in a Nashville hotel in 1813, but that was less an official duel than spur-of-the-moment bang-bang.
But having the reputation of being willing to challenge someone to a duel was certainly a valuable thing for Jackson or any politician. Actually, one of the funnier dueling moments stemming from a presidential election took place in 1826. In April of that year, the hot-tempered Virginian Senator John Randolph made a speech on the Senate floor accusing Henry Clay of throwing the contentious 1824 presidential contest (so close it was decided in the House of Representatives) to John Quincy Adams—specifically, he called him a “blackleg,” slang for a cheating gambler. This was too much for Clay, who challenged Randolph to a duel.
The two met early in the morning at a deserted spot along the Potomac. They took their positions, backed up by seconds who included the aforementioned Senator Thomas Hart Benton, but a comedy of errors ensued. First, Randolph accidentally discharged his gun and had to be given another one. Then both men shot, and missed. They reloaded and Clay fired. His bullet pierced Randolph’s coat without hurting him. Randolph paused a moment, then turned – and deliberately fired his pistol straight up in the air.
“I do not fire at you, Mr. Clay,” he said, and the two men shook hands and were thereafter friendly acquaintances. Senator Benton dryly remarked that it was “about the last high-toned duel” he ever saw.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hey, I'm Really Sorry

Tis the season of forgiveness....all these apologies going on. Mike is apologizing to Mitt for saying that Satan and Jesus are bros in the Mormon religion, Hillary apologizes for Obama for comments made by her campaign chairman in New Hampshire about Obama's youthful drug use. I have to say, back in the good ol' days, no candidate would have thought about apologizing to another. Do you really think Teddy Roosevelt would say "sorry" for calling William Howard Taft "a fathead with the brains of a guinea pig." Roosevelt could be a pretty nasty guy. He also called William Jennings Bryan "a kindly man and well-meaning in a weak way...but he is the cheapest fakir we have ever proposed for president." And he suggested, when rumors arose during the 1912 contest that Woodrow Wilson had had an affair: "You can't cast a man as Romeo who looks and acts so much like an apothecary clerk."
Now, those are insults,guys. And none of this wishy-washy, hypocritical "I'm sorry" either....

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Altered Candidates

Well, nice to see the "Drug Smear" rearing its ugly head in 2008--I had been expecting it, but perhaps not this soon. The Daily Kos reports that Billy Shaheen, co-chair of Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire, recently "pondered" Barack Obama's supposed drug use, saying, usefully, that Obama's mention of his drug use in high school gives "so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
Uh-huh. And how about Democratic dirty tricks, Billy? His is a classic intraparty smear job, as the Kos points out, posing as "concern" for Obama,but really leaving the impression in reader's minds that a)Obama was a really big druggie and b)he is now a vulnerable candidate.
This is Cheap Shot 101 and--naturally--I mention it in my book as one of my Top Ten Classic Attacks in Presidential Elections. It's Number 2: "You're Drunk All The Time!"
Charges of inebriation have been leveled at candidates throughout American history. In 1852, the admittedly hard-boozing Franklin Pierce was called "the hero of many a well-fought bottle." Ulysses S. Grant, a "soak" in the parlance of the day, got his share of it too, with this little ditty sung by Democratic voters:
"I am Captain Grant of the Black Marines
The stupidest man that ever was seen.
I smoke my weed and drink my gin
Paying with the people's tin."

(The weed here is tobacco and the Black Marines referred to Grant's supposed support of Reconstruction efforts in the South.) Okay, so maybe Grant and Pierce did drink a bit, but Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1876, was called a souse and the guy was a teetotaler. In 1896, William Jennings Bryan was accused of being a drunk. He wasn't but he did enjoy relaxing rubdowns with gin, which may have led to that impression. Al Smith, who openly supported repeal of Prohibition was branded a lush who would install a bootlegger in his cabinet. And all the guy did was have a martini before dinner. Etc. Etc. It's just surprising any candidate thinks this type of thing will work, short of video of the supposed drug or alcohol abuser falling down and vomiting during a press conference. Certainly, it didn't work with Bill Clinton, who was able to get away with the hilarious statement that he "didn't inhale" and it didn't work with George W. Bush who, of recent candidates, was probably the hardest partier of them all back in the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Yo, Jesus! It's the Devil! Pick up, bro!"

Only twenty more days until Christmas and, no, I'm not miscounting. I'm talking about January 3, in Iowa, where, it now appears, almost anything can happen. My stocking overfloweth with discord and strife. Hillary, it is rumored (and of course it would be rumored) now has Bill working to bail her out of her downward slide ever since the Philadelphia debate last month. Obama, of course, has Oprah on his side--but will this backfire?
On the Republican side, there is Mike Huckabee, the Comeback Kid. One of the scariest things about Huckabee, as the New York Times reports, is his avowed love of Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series of novels, Christian screeds about the end of the world and the Resurrection. One wonders whether or not Huckabee can endorse a "novelist" of this stripe and win the general election. And Huckabee is also quoted as saying 'Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the Devil are partners?" Whew -- up close, this guy is not quite so folksy and charming. I consider Mitt Romney a bit of a stiff, but it is strange that Huckabee takes this line with him. Tim La Haye's books are far scarier than anything they could dream up in Salt Lake City. But that's America for you. And. after all, eternal salvation and eternal damnation have always had their place in presidential politics. In 1960, ex-president Harry Truman firmly told voters that they "might go to hell" if they voted for Richard Nixon. And you know--he was sort of right.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Smear Your Favorite Candidate

Usually political professionals are the ones who get to really dirty up the opposing candidate in presidential contests, but now you, too, can have your chance, and right from the privacy of your own home. Yesterday, my eight-year-old daughter Carson introduced me to the computer game "Presidential Paintball," which you can find on, the game site that is all the rage among the eight-year-old set. Presidential Paintball features Rudy, Mitt and John McCain vs. Hillary, Obama, and John Edwards in vicious paintball wars. Just pick your candidate and start firing.Carson's thoughts: "Hillary is a terrible player. Mitt is good. John McCain is way too slow."
Actually, Rudy seems the fastest, especially when firing at Hillary--he knocks her off before she can even began to press "R" for reload.
Anyway, try it out. Presidential Paintball is the most fun I've had since playing my Watergate board game--yes, I have a vintage edition of one--way back in the seventies.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Forget about Mitt -- How About That Gennifer?

I was going to blog today about Mitt Romney and his supposedly landmark speech on religion, but, in my humble opinion, it turned into such a bust, such a political toeing-of-the-line--as compared to JFK's talk to the Southern Baptist ministers years ago, where the guy basically told them a)he wasn't controlled by the Pope and b) religion had nothing to do with running for President. Romney told his carefully assembled audience (JFK's group was a highly skeptical one) that since the Founders had written religion into government, who was he to change that?
Well, yeah--they also wrote in a ridiculous electoral college voting system and many of them kept slaves and George Washington hated to shake hands, preferring to bow. Mitt should start bowing on the campaign trail--George did.
Well, enough. I much prefer yesterday's Huffington Post interview with Gennifer Flowers, who was at the scandalous epicenter of Bill Clinton's run for the presidency in 1992. Flowers, today, as then, a chanteuse--she is currently working in a revue called "Bottom's Up!" in Vegas--opines that she might vote for Hillary. ("I can't help but want to support my own gender, and she's as experienced as any of the others, except maybe Joe Biden.")
We have yet to have any real sexual scandal in the 2008 race--we may get into it a bit more with Rudy G. and his "trysts" with Judy Nathan on New York city's bill while he was married to Donna Hanover. But, so far, nothing like 1992.
After getting a strong start in the primaries, Clinton's candidacy had nearly collapsed in New Hampshire after numerous revelations about his womanizing.
Gossip had swirled around Clinton in this regard for years. An Arkansas State trooper who was part of Clinton’s bodyguard swore he had heard Hillary yell one night: “I need to be fucked more than twice a year!” Republicans sleaze-meisters whispered that Clinton had had a child with a black woman. In 1990, a lawsuit (later dismissed) had been filed by a disgruntled Arkansas state employee claiming that Clinton had had relationships with five different women. Other rumors accused him of rape and of feeling up a woman in the bathroom at his own wedding.
The only sexual misconduct charge that was to stick to Clinton for the moment was that he had had an affair with singer and former Arkansas state employee Flowers of whom he reportedly said, “She could suck a mole through a garden hose.” After the “smoking bimbo” revelation in the Star tabloid—Gennifer had taped phone conversations with Clinton—the Arkansas Governor was met at every campaign stop by what his staff called “the clusterfuck:” a semi-circle of reporters with microphones shouting leading questions at him.”
But Clinton, appearing on the television news show “Sixty Minutes” with Hillary, admitted only that he caused “pain in my marriage” and thus managed to escape unscathed—as he was to do on the issues of smoking marijuana (incredibly, he said he “didn’t inhale”) and draft-dodging back in the sixties (“dodge” was perhaps too strong a word, but he had avoided military service until he lucked into a high draft lottery number).
So Clinton was indeed the Comeback Kid, although to Republicans he was “Slick Willie.” They hated him passionately and almost hysterically, the way Democrats loathed Richard Nixon. One wealthy Republican businessman in Chicago spent 40,000 dollars at the beginning of the campaign unsuccessfully digging for dirt that would torpedo Clinton. It did little good—Clinton jumped out to 13 point lead in the polls after Labor Day. Desperate Republicans strategists even asked two aides to Great Britain Prime Minister John Major, who had won despite a weak economy and poor personal ratings, for advice. (Their only suggestion, which was not taken, was to plaster pictures of Gennifer Flowers on huge billboards all over the country above the words AND NOW HE WANTS TO SCREW THE COUNTRY, TOO.)
And now Hillary is running for President. And Gennifer might vote for her. What a wonderful country we live in.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's Getting to feel a lot like Christmas

...if you love dirty political campaigning that is. I mean, here we have the old Muslim Obama slur rearing its ugly head again as well as Mike Huckabee, now that he thinks he actually has a shot at things, refusing to answer a question as to whether or not Mormonism is a cult. Loaded question, to be sure, but, hey Mike, you're supposed to be the "non-politician" in the bunch.
And speaking of Mormons, I can't wait to see what Mitt has to tell us this morning re his religion. Many pundits are recalling JFK's famous speech during the 1960 campaign, in which Kennedy went to Houston to personally address a prominent group of Protestant ministers and convincingly deny that he had any “allegiance” to the Pope. But Mitt's situation is a trifle different. For one thing, he says he will not address the issue of Mormonism head on. For another, he is the first Mormon to run for President--to some extent, Kennedy's way was made smoother by the campaign of Al Smith in 1928. Smith, the very first Catholic to run, was treated abominably by the Republicans and many people alive in 1960 had clear memories of this. Secondly, even more than Catholicism in 1928 or 1960, Mormonism has tons of superstition and prejudice associated with it--hey, it's a cult run by polygamists and all those young white guys in shirts and ties, right?
Don' know if Mitt has the dexterity to defuse this issue, especially since early excerpts of his speech don't really address it. He seems to be sticking to the high road, but let's watch and see....

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Greatest Campaign Commercial of All Time

As I mentioned the other day, there have been some truly classic presidential campaign attack ads out there -- 1988 featured "Revolving Door" and "Tank," but there probably has been none so completely effective as "Daisy," used by Lyndon Johnson's campaign in 1964. Daisy did not, once, mention Barry Goldwater by name, but it didn't need to. Everyone who saw this alarmist nuclear era smear knew just who was being talked about.
On September 7, 1964, during NBC’s top-rated “Monday Night at the Movies,’ viewers were treated to a lovely shot of a little blonde girl walking through a field. She stops to pick up a daisy, and begins pulling the petals off and counting in a high, innocent voice, “1...2…3...4," charmingly getting her numbers wrong. At the same time, a military voice begins a count down: “10…9…8…7…6” At the counting reaches zero, the little girl looks up, startled. You stare into her frozen face and…a huge mushroom cloud explodes, filling the screen. Over the mushroom cloud, Lyndon Johnson’s voices says. “There are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must love each other or we must die.”
Produced by Doyle Dane Bernbach, the ad aired only once—one paid appearance, that is. To the delight of the Democrats, newscasts continuously replayed the spot in its entirety, driving home the message and give free exposure. The more the Republicans screamed, the worse it was.
You can watch it here, courtesy of YouTube. You absolutely can't take your eyes off it.
Also, I want to throw in a plug here for another classic campaign commercial, Ronald Reagan's 1984 "Morning in America" bit. Not an attack ad per se, but a glorious bit of whitebread propaganda which is quite hilarious to watch--at one point, Reagan takes credit for the fact that "6500 young Americans" will be married in a single day. (No mention that half of them would be divorced within ten years.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

December Surprise

Yes, Rudy, Mitt, Mike, Fred--there is a Santa Claus! Some might think it a little early to be handing out Get Out of the Doldrums Free Cards, but I love the way this news about Iran's halting its nuclear arms program as far back as 2003 is shaking out. While certain pundits say that it makes the Bush Administration seem a little, well, foolish--a few weeks ago, they were pounding the podium and calling for war--I would agree that this is a gift to Republican candidates just before the crucial winter primary season begins.
After all, they now no longer have to defend an Administration which is already in one unpopular war and had seemed interested in entering into another one. If Republicans want, they can attack the intelligence community's vicissitudes, but they don't have the Bush war-monger anchor around their necks, particularly since the surge in Iraq appears to be calming the waters there. In my mind, this is really a devilishly clever move--has Karl Rove moved back in?-- which will improve the chances of whatever Republican makes it to the top after the bloody mauling of Iowa, New Hampshire and Super-Duper Tuesday.
More on that famous attack commercial I promised you yesterday in a few hours....

Monday, December 3, 2007

Going Negative

Now as we are just one month away from the Iowa caucus, presidential races on both sides of the political spectrum are tightening incredibly with half of Iowan voters saying they could change their minds at any moment. Expect attack ads in that state and in New Hampshire to reach a frenzied peak in the next few weeks. Remember, while most people say that they dislike attack ads, they also work quite well, leaving an indelible impression in the viewer's mind.
It's also important to note that there is a difference between attack ads, and releasing negative information about your opponent. The latter is part of what democracy is all about and may even have a legitimate value. We probably did need to know, in 1972, that George McGovern's vice-presidential running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, had had shock treatments and been treated for alcoholism, although certainly the intent in releasing the info was to smear the poor bastard. (Anyone remember how McGovern was behind Eagleton "1000%" and then dumped him, pronto?)
But most real attack ads are alarmist in nature, distorting the truth and intending to scare and anger the viewer. The 1988 George Bush-Michael Dukakis contest was famous for its attack ads. Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater, media advisor Roger Ailes, and political pro Ed Rollins pursued a strategy of “raising the negatives” by churning out commercials attacking Dukakis for being too liberal on drugs and crime and too much of a girly-man on defense. When he was dying young of a brain tumor a few years after the campaign, Lee Atwater apologized for only one thing: his vow to “make Willie Horton Michael Dukakis’s running mate.”
Horton was a 39-year-old black convict who, during Dukakis’s tenure as governor, had taken part in a weekend furlough program in Massachusetts. Instead of returning to prison, however, Horton fled to Maryland, where he raped a white woman and stabbed her white fiancĂ©e. The colors matter here, because the Republicans were about to make the most racist series of attacks in modern American electioneering history.
To begin with, Republicans renamed Horton. In actuality, his name was not Willie, but William. He was known to his mother, family, friends, enemies, cops and parole officers as William. Newspaper accounts of his crimes referred to him as William. And yet the Republican attack ads called him “Willie.”
What kind of attack ads?
A few samples:
•“Get Out of Jail Free Card”
Modeled after the Monopoly card and distributed to 400,000 Texas voters, this tiny mailbox stuffer read: “Michael Dukakis is the killer’s best friend and the decent honest citizen’s worst enemy.”
• “Pro-Family Letter”
This was the Maryland Republican party fund-raising letter which coupled pictures of Willie Horton and Michael Dukakis over the headline: “Is This Your Pro-Family Team for 1988?”
But the most notorious one--and here it is, courtesy of YouTube--was the infamous "Revolving Door" commercial. This stark black and white TV spot showed convicts marching through a turnstile into jail and immediately back out again. No matter that the “convicts” were out-of-work Republicans instructed not to shave for the day. The point had been made.
Things go so bad that the Bush campaign claimed in an ad that Chicago mass murderer John Wayne Gacy would be released on furlough if Michael Dukakis were elected. Even the serial killer clown was offended. Gacy dispatched an angry missive from prison: “It is an insult to the voting public that [Republicans are] exploiting the name of John Wayne Gacy to scare people into voting for George Bush.”
Tomorrow: the most famous attack ad of all time.