The mid-term elections are upon us here in the U.S. That means – as has been the practice for the past quarter century – that candidates shout at the voters in declaring why the other person is so much worse than they are. This trend gained momentum during the 2000 presidential campaign in which then-Texas Governor George W. Bush narrowly triumphed over Vice-President Al Gore. It was the closest presidential elections in U.S. history, and Bush couldn’t have won if his campaign staff hadn’t demonized Gore and ultimately convince the Supreme Court to circumvent the electoral process and proclaim Bush the winner. Under the direction of Karl Rove, Bush’s campaign apparently had to besmirch Gore’s reputation, since Bush had no other redeeming qualities. He was a failed businessman, a one-time failed congressional candidate and a former part-time owner of the Texas Rangers. His years as Texas governor were pretty much uneventful and marked by only three notable highlights: an increase of the speed limit on Texas highways; a law legalizing the right to carry firearms; and the execution of a woman for the first time in over 130 years. That was it; that was the extent of his professional resume. If he’d tried to run on that legacy alone – and if voters had actually paid attention to it – Bush probably would have lost to Gore.
The Rove sludge machine didn’t stop with the 2000 presidential elections though. They went on to denounce the reputations of other political candidates, such as Max Cleland, a military veteran who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War. Cleland, a Democrat, had served as a U.S. senator from Georgia from 1997 – 2003. But, during the 2002 mid-term elections, his patriotism was questioned – and he subsequently lost amidst a wave of hysteria following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. That a combat war veteran who nearly lost his life should have his patriotism and thereby, his credibility questioned against a president and vice-president who used just about every excuse imaginable to avoid military service during the same period is obscene and hypocritical. But, that’s how the Rove gang operated; they couldn’t run a decent campaign to highlight their candidate’s accomplishments.
The same questions of patriotism befell U.S. Senator John Kerry when he ran for the presidency in 2004. Also a military veteran who had served in Vietnam, Kerry came under attack from a group called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” The group of former Vietnam War veterans was convened strictly to help Bush defeat Kerry. Financed by wealthy political donors, SBVT questioned Kerry’s credentials as a combat sailor during the Vietnam conflict and thereby insinuated that he wasn’t worthy of the Navy medals he’d received. Among their benefactors was Texas billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens who added dirt to the mud pool by offering $1 million to anyone who could disavow the SBVT allegations. When another group of Vietnam veterans finally proved that Kerry’s military credentials were impeccable, Pickens reneged on his challenge, saying the information wasn’t verifiable; thus proving no one is too old to be a punk.
Kerry, of course, made things bad for himself with his varied verbal fumbles – not nearly as bad as Bush, though. At least Kerry knows how to pronounce the word “nuclear.” Kerry initially didn’t authorize release of his military records to the public, even though it may have helped his campaign. He finally released them in 2005.
There was a time that even I remember when a military veteran’s credibility was not something you questioned. I also recall that politicians used to debate the issues and not each other’s reputations. Things rarely got personal in high-profile political elections. When they did, whoever made the unsavory accusation or dredged up some dirt from the past was pretty much shamed into obscurity. Now, that seems to be the standard for running a campaign.
I still think the average American’s distaste for all things political began with the Watergate fiasco. But, it reached its putrid zenith in the mid-1990s, when Republicans took over both houses of the U.S. Congress. Already filled with vile against Bill Clinton, they did everything they could remove him from office; a scheme that culminated in Clinton’s 1998 impeachment over a tawdry sex affair.
As the political season got underway here in Texas late last year, the state Republican Party quickly found itself in a curious state of division. In 2002, Republicans gained control over the Texas legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. If you listened to the state GOP, they sounded like a group of impoverished Jews who’d finally defeated the Nazis in post-World War II Europe after a century of oppression and brutality. But, the traditional Republican Party is now under attack from the “Tea Party,” a pack of extremists who formed in 2009 – conveniently – when Barack Obama took office. The “Tea Party” clan has denounced all elected Republican officials as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). In other words, the standard GOP isn’t right-wing enough. It’s like Stalin calling Hitler a pot-smoking, tree hugger. To me, the only different is that “Tea Party” Republicans haven’t gotten their required rabies shots yet and keep forgetting to wipe their asses.
It was interesting to watch Texas Republicans try so hard to out-conservative one another. Each one (a White male) running for a statewide office lambasted his opponent as a (gasp!) Washington liberal who doesn’t support traditional (Christian) values. Ironically, they all had two things in common: they hate Obama and love the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Televised campaign ads showed many of them on hunting trips, waving guns like they were their penises. As a writer and left-of-center blogger, I have a fetish for the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech and the right to vote. But hey, I’m just kind of queer like that.
Last year I lamented how voter turnouts were lower in 2012 than in 2004 and 2008. More importantly, on average, only about a third of eligible Texas voters make a concerted effort to get to the polls. That explains why Texas appears to be a bastion of right-wing lunacy. The lone Democrat running for Texas governor, Wendy Davis, has already been labeled a one-issue candidate (because of her filibuster last year of a restrictive abortion bill), but questions arose recently about the veracity of her life story. Some were upset that she had said she was 21, not 19, when she and her husband divorced. In fact, Davis and her husband separated when she was 19; their divorce became final two years later. Do little things really mean a lot? That she lifted herself out of poverty by forging ahead with a college education apparently says nothing about her personal fortitude.
Image courtesy Ben Sargent.
But, instead of talking bad about their opponent, why don’t candidates promote what’s good about themselves? Tell us voters what good things you’ve done for your community. Although Texas has recovered more quickly from the recent economic downturn, what ideas does each candidate have to maintain that level of productivity? The Republican candidates despise the Affordable Care Act, but what solutions do they have for ensuring that all Texans have access to health care beyond a hospital emergency room or Band-Aids from Wal-Mart?
Is it really too much to ask that these people show some level of professionalism and focus on the issues? I guess so.
“Ugliness creates bitterness,” former First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, a Texas native, once said. “Ugliness is an eroding force on the people of our land. We are all here to try to change that.”
I truly wish that would happen.