One of the oldest phenomena of American elections— criticism of one's opponent— has in recent times been stigmatized by much of the media as "negative advertising."
Is this because the criticism has gotten more vicious or more personal? You might think so, if you were totally ignorant of history, as so many of the graduates of even our elite universities are.
Although Grover Cleveland was elected President twice, he had to overcome a major scandal that he had fathered a child out of wedlock, which was considered more of a disgrace then than today. Even giants like Lincoln and Jefferson were called names that neither McCain nor Obama has been called.
Why then is "negative advertising" such a big deal these days? The dirty little secret is this: Liberal candidates have needed to escape their past and pretend that they are not liberals, because so many voters have had it with liberals.
In 1988, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts called himself a "technocrat," a pragmatic solver of problems, despite a classic liberal track record of big spending, big taxes, and policies that were anti-business and pro-criminal.
When the truth about what he actually did as governor was brought out during the Presidential election campaign, the media were duly shocked— not by Dukakis' record, but by the Republicans' exposing his record.
John Kerry, with a very similar ultra-liberal record, topped off by inflammatory and unsubstantiated attacks on American military men in Vietnam, disdained the whole process of labeling as something unworthy. And the mainstream media closed ranks around him as well, deploring those who labeled Kerry a liberal.
Barack Obama is much smoother. Instead of issuing explicit denials, he gives speeches that sound so moderate, so nuanced and so lofty that even some conservative Republicans go for them. How could anyone believe that such a man is the very opposite of what he claims to be— unless they check out the record of what he has actually done?
In words, Obama is a uniter instead of a divider.
After Barack Obama moved beyond the role of a community organizer, he promoted the same polarization in his other roles.
That is what he did when he spent the money of the Woods Fund bankrolling programs to spread the politics of grievance and resentment into the schools. That is what he did when he spent the taxpayers' money bankrolling the grievance and resentment ideology of Michael Pfleger.
When Barack Obama donated $20,000 to Jeremiah Wright, does anyone imagine that he was unaware that Wright was the epitome of grievance, envy and resentment hype? Or were Wright's sermons too subtle for Obama to pick up that message?
How subtle is "Goddamn America!"?
Yet those in the media who deplore "negative advertising" regard it as unseemly to dig up ugly facts instead of sticking to the beautiful rhetoric of an election year. The oft-repeated mantra is that we should trick to the "real issues."
What are called "the real issues" are election-year talking points, while the actual track record of the candidates is treated as a distraction— and somehow an unworthy distraction.
Does anyone in real life put more faith in what people say than in what they do? A few gullible people do— and they often get deceived and defrauded big time.
Barack Obama has carried election-year makeovers to a new high, presenting himself a uniter of people, someone reaching across the partisan divide and the racial divide— after decades of promoting polarization in each of his successive roles and each of his choices of political allies.
Yet the media treat exposing a fraudulent election-year image as far worse than letting someone acquire the powers of the highest office in the land through sheer deception.
To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com. Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.
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