Our country is essentially one giant pile of mud. We bicker, banter, knife, snipe, claw, bite and stomp for our pieces of the mud, and when we are opposed by another creature like ourselves we fling whatever dirt, mud and sludge we can get our hands on. Nowhere can this be seen so clearly as in the political realm. While political jockeying does lead to placing those involved in serious positions of power, it’s perhaps the lowest common denominator of our society, and those involved relish in that. By and large, mainstream politicians are not stupid, and the reason they will go to any lengths in their attacks on their opponents is because they know it’s exactly what the audience wants.
Over the years, American politicians have really set the standard for not only creativity but pure evil in pursuit of political office. While there are hundreds of examples of mudslinging throughout history, these are the messiest that could be found.
Rep Alan Grayson
A good mud volley holds at its center an absolute whopping lie more often than not. Try to damage your opponent first, worry about the details later. Rep. Alan Grayson (D) of Florida thought of something most Americans can identify as negative: the Taliban. In a heavily edited attack ad, Grayson pulled a classic bad movie stunt: he took parts of his opponent Daniel Webster’s (R) speech out of context to make it seem as if Webster was encouraging women to submit to their husbands. Just like when an ad says a reviewer called their new movie “…amazing…” when what the review really said was “it’s amazing how awful this movie is.”
In the unedited video of Webster’s speech he cautions men against listening to Bible passages that encourage wives to submit to their husbands. Grayson not only launched an attack ad which showed Webster telling women to submit four times, but his campaign has defended the ad despite its illegitimacy.
If you want to go after someone, try bashing them for the things they’ve actually done. They’re politicians; there must be something wrong with them for real. Word to the wise, Rep. Grayson.
John McCain has been the target of attacks his entire political life. Whether it be his temper, his love for the ladies, his off-the-cuff racism, or his ability to be at all times for and against everything… the man is a walking mud bomb, ready for exploit by any challenger (or the myriads of special interest groups who have come to loathe him).
This came to a dramatic head in McCain’s primary bid for President in 2000. Things had gotten ugly between McCain and Bush’s campaign in their race across the US, with McCain comparing Bush to (gasp) Bill Clinton and Bush’s ads claiming that McCain had “abandoned the veterans” after McCain had dedicated his life to veterans’ issues.
The dirt and the mud began to burst forward as the campaigns hit South Carolina. Bush supporters and affiliates (called at times “third-party groups”) started a white noise campaign via phone, mail, radio, faxes, flyers and television bashing McCain on a variety of fabricated tales. They claimed he’d fathered children with prostitutes and that he was a Manchurian candidate planted by communists to bring down America. They called his wife a drug addict.
McCain went on to lose the primary to Bush, in no small part due to the slimy, greasy mud sprayed from the Bush campaign and its affiliates. Sometimes it definitely pays to get dirty.
In 2010 Jack Conway (D) won the award for cheapest, least logical shot of any senate race in his battle against Rand Paul (R). Paul, the son of beloved former presidential candidate Ron Paul, was locked in an increasingly heated battle with Conway over the junior Kentucky senate seat.
That’s when Conway decided to launch his ad entitled Why, in which he asked the deep thought provoking question “why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was aqua Buddha?” He might as well have asked “why does Kentucky want an evil heretic as their senator?”
The story was based on an anonymous source from Rand’s college days who later said the incident was part of college hazing, which the good people of Kentucky could care less about. Supporters rallied behind Paul, electing him and in the process showing their disinterest in dirty, muddy politics. â€¨
Essential in this game of getting your opponent dirty is distancing yourself from the dirt you chuck. This can be done in many ways, but often finding a lunatic stooge and releasing them on your political opponent accomplishes it. Then, when they start acting their craziest, you deny any connection to them and make it clear that while the accusations made by the loon bear examination, you have no true affiliation or support either from or to said loon.
Just look at Kathleen Willey. Willey hopped onto the scene testifying against Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. She claimed that in 1993, Clinton had groped her in a White House passageway. Willey also claimed that her husband, Ed Willey (a Southern Democrat working on Clinton campaigns) was going broke. She approached Bill Clinton for help, which is when he thought he would have a quick grope on his way to an important meeting with more women he no doubt planned to abuse. Only a few days later Ed “committed suicide” after being threatened by “bad people” who had loaned him money.
The story made no sense, and it was widely ignored. Willey disappeared. Or did she? When Hilary Clinton began her run for presidency in 2007, Willey suddenly reappeared, and the strange, made-for-TV drama she had unleashed (created) suddenly had a much more sinister conclusion. It turned out Ed’s death had been no suicide, but was a carefully concealed murder plot created and enacted by the Clinton’s own hands! Or at least that’s what Willey claimed in a book she released to try to hurt Hilary’s chances for President in 2008 called Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The book was published by World Ahead Publishing, a subsidiary of the conservative-funded WorldNetDaily website, who was most certainly supporting another candidate for election in 2008. This story has been debunked numerous times, along with dozens of other claims that the Clintons had many people that opposed them murdered over the past few decades. Certified mud.
Swift Boat Debacle
Sometimes people sling mud over the most inopportune issues, and it still ends up helping them. Take for example the 2004 Presidential race, and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign. Bush had done everything he could to avoid serving in Vietnam when he’d had the chance, and had even refused to honor his domestic military assignment which put him in zero danger to begin with.
During this time Kerry had served his country with distinction, earning medals for bravery and actually fighting in Vietnam. This didn’t stop a major Bush fundraiser, Bobby Jack Perry (a man with three first names), from creating an “independent” group bashing Kerry’s military service.
A lot of the veterans pictured questioning Kerry’s service had never actually served with him in Vietnam, but they fancied themselves experts on honorable military service, as did Perry. When the ads became increasingly scandalous and emblematic of desperate mud-slinging, Bush distanced himself from them.
In 1988 the American people were presented with yet another thrilling choice of presidential candidates: George Bush, who promised nothing but the same tired trickle down policies of Reagan, or Michael Dukakis, perhaps the Democrats’ most uninspiring nominee ever (pre-John Kerry of course).
Since neither candidate had much of a platform to run on, things got dirty pretty quickly. But in a mud war, Bush had a gross advantage. While Dukakis preferred to discuss the issues, the Republican machine went to work at grinding him into dust. After using Reagan to call him an invalid (apparently at some point Dukakis had attended therapy sessions), Bush went to the big guns, attacking Dukakis for being “weak on crime.”
When Dukakis was the governor of Massachusetts he had supported a prison furlough program that allowed convicted inmates some weekends to leave prison during their sentence. It was a stupid idea for a variety of reasons, but Bush tied it to Dukakis with a beautiful muddy bow in his “Weekend Passes” commercial.
In the commercial a very serious voice tells the viewer that Willie Horton, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in Massachusetts was given 10 weekend passes under Dukakis’ tenure. During one of his free weekends Horton stole a car and attacked a couple, raping the woman and stabbing her fiancÃ©.
Dukakis’ entire face was buried in mud, so much so that the election was a landslide for Bush despite his unwavering support for the exact same failed policies of the past 8 years.
The most creative and muddy of attacks is to inexorably tie your opponent to something so deplorable that it becomes taboo to side with him. Accusing him of misdeeds or dishonesty is tried and tired — people need a bit more to imagine. Lyndon B. Johnson invented the grandfather of all abstract attack ads with his “Daisy Girl.” Almost single-handedly, he destroyed Barry Goldwater’s presidential hopes with one small television spot.
During the campaign, Goldwater had made it very clear that his strategy towards Vietnam was to invoke our military dominance in all its force. He even went so far as to say we shouldn’t rule out the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Johnson seized on this for his back breaking mud attack ad.
In the ad, a little girl is shown gathering flowers. Soon, an eerie voice, for some reason reminiscent of Goldwater’s begins to count down from 10. When his countdown finishes, the little girl looks up. The shot then zooms into her eye, in which we can see she’s staring at a mushroom cloud.
Nuclear war and the death of innocent flower-picking little girls is something we can all stand against. No matter how gung-ho you are, you probably still tend to refrain from encouraging either one to happen. LBJ won the election handily, and ended Goldwater’s political career by creating an unshakeable association between Goldwater and nuclear child death.
Helms v. Hunt
In 1984, incumbent Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) saw former Governor Jim Hunt (D-N.C.) coming a mile away. Hunt was younger, moderate and extremely popular, and Helms was ready to pounce.
Helms went into the standard conservative drone about flip-flopping, accusing Hunt of not standing for anything at all. What made it extreme is that Helms’ ad campaign began 18 months before the election. Hunt responded by digging up some real archaeological dirt, linking Helms to El Salvadorian death squads. In Hunts’ ad, a man accuses Helms of helping to start up and organize death squads in El Salvador and behaving as a crusader.
For a while Hunt was far ahead in the polls, but Helms’ slow and steady won the race. His predictable spiel was exactly what the voters in North Carolina craved. They weren’t interested in uncovering conspiracies. They just wanted something to rally and belt that ol’ rebel yell around — and they found it in the form of Sen. Helms.
Helms v. Gant
This guy Helms is so disgustingly dirty he’s basically defecating. Six years after his bout with the former Governor Jim Hunt, he had another election, and he figured the same tricks were exactly what the boys and girls of his state desired. Add in a dose of racism, and perfecto! Overtime mud.
Helms’ next opponent was Harvey Gantt, a former architect and the first black mayor of Charlotte. Gantt was a supporter of affirmative action, and Helms could smell blood. He knew that plenty of racist white people would be on his side, but he wanted to rally the base and wave the stars and bars like never before.
Helms ran ads showing white hands ripping up a job rejection letter over a voiceover saying that Gantt supports “racial quotas” for hiring. It was a complete coup, and Helms trotted to victory dirtier and greasier than ever.
Robb vs. North
Sometimes when dirt is thrown, it’s pretty one-sided. Other times it’s a cage match from hell, and the combatants are willing to fight to the political death. Such was the case in 1994, when former Marines Charles Robb and Oliver North squared off to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate. Robb was former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s son-in-law, and had faced charges of drug use and adultery.
North hammered Robb on the issues of infidelity, sleaze, and in an ad connected Robb to a former Miss Virginia and Playboy model he’d slept with. But North wasn’t so squeaky clean himself, and Robb had plenty of ammo and mud in his heart.
Under Reagan, Oliver North had been an integral part of the Iran-Contra scandal, in which North’s job was to sell arms to adversarial Iran and use the proceeds to fund terrorist acts by the ultra-conservative anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua. It was terrible, dirty, complicated stuff. Perhaps too complex for the American people to even understand. In the fallout from the scandal, North, a lackey at the time, took much of the blame.
In his own ad, Robb showed how North had lied to Congress, Reagan, and even schoolchildren about his role in the Iran-Contra affair. Robb squeaked out a victory, despite the fact that the dirt he threw didn’t involve a Playmate. It was a true victory in American politics for the people, by the people.
Soft on Terror
Apparently, what America wants in their leaders is someone hard. More often than not, politicians will attack each other for being soft: soft on crime, on the poor, on foreign nations, even soft on terrorism.
In 2002, Republican challenger and sassily named Saxby Chambliss didn’t pull any punches against the incumbent Georgia senator Max Cleland (D). Chambliss challenged Cleland’s vote against a proposed version of the new Department of Homeland Security. In Chambliss’ ad, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were seen smiling over a montage of military images, and then quickly cut to accusing Max Cleland of voting against necessary measures to defend the country from terrorism.
Cleland, a quadriplegic veteran injured in Vietnam, was incensed that his commitment to security was being questioned, and pointed to his history of service and dedication to his country. His supporters pointed out that it was pretty cheap and disgustingly heavy handed to show terrorists and Max Cleland in tandem, all for naught. The people of Georgia decided they didn’t want anyone who might be soft on bin Laden, and they jettisoned Cleland in favor of Chambliss. Another triumph of filth.
When you dig for dirt, you find the strangest things. The question: should you run with it? The answer is yes, and the 2004 Texas congress race between Rep. Pete Sessions (R) and Rep. Martin Frost (D) epitomizes it. Due to crafty, shady redistricting in 2004, Republicans were able to pit Democratic incumbents against Republican incumbents and potentially snatch a bunch of seats in the House of Representatives. Frost, a member of the Democratic leadership, was a prime target.
Frost’s response to being turned into a walking bull’s eye was to unearth whatever he could find in the roots of Sessions’ past. What he found was a photo from Sessions’ 1970’s college days, of the congressmen in a crowd streaking. Frost’s aides passed the photos out to the press, and presumably sat back smugly and waited to be elected.
However, Sessions had some mud of his own to thrust into Frost’s face. Frost had contracted Peter, Paul and Mary to appear at one of his fundraisers. Sessions pointed out that Peter Yarrow had served three months for taking “immoral and indecent liberties” with a 14-year-old fan. Not exactly classy of Frost, was it? The people of Texas agreed, reasoning that running around naked wasn’t as bad as consorting with child loving folk singers. â€¨
The mud game runs deep in this country, real deep. In the year 1800, back when people still cared how much tea cost and other similar nonsense, they really knew how to get into the heart of the muck and the mire.
Thomas Jefferson, the current vice president at the time and an avowed states rights advocate, was opposing John Adams, a firm promoter of federal power over the states. Sparks flew, blades were sharpened, and knives were thrust. Jefferson realized that all he really needed was someone with a sharp tongue to write absolutely terrible things about Adams and he could sit back and let the pamphlets distribute themselves. Back then people didn’t have too many things to read (or do), so getting a hot pamphlet full of disses aimed at the President was hot stuff. Real hot.
Jefferson hired writer James Callender to come up with the juicy stuff, and the Jefferson campaign handed out pamphlets that called Adams “a repulsive pendant” (what?), a “gross hypocrite,” and the crown jewel, “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
K.O., knocked out by an avalanche of sludge. â€¨
The 2010 midterm elections were cast as the battle of an embittered grass roots movement: the Tea Party vs. the evil establishment of Democratic spending and overall perversion. One of the weakest candidates the Republicans had took on the gargantuan task of attempting to surmount Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader.
Reid appeared somewhat vulnerable, and Sharron Angle (R) (known for being a nutcase pounced). In an ad she revealed what she hoped would be the decapitator: Reid voted to use federal tax dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted sexual criminals! Can you believe it? You can’t, because Angle made it up.
Angle spun wildly out of control, blaming Mexicans for half of the problems in America, and Harry Reid for everything else. It was essentially a showcase of what had been whispered upon her rise to prominence, that she was too wild, unstable and far-right for anyone to understand, much less support. Reid won, and Angle returned to permanent obscurity.
Specter vs Sestak
The 2010 Pennsylvania Primary race for U.S. Senate between Arlen Specter (D) and Joe Sestak (D) is the final case of extreme mudslide. The irony of it all is that neither candidate won the general election, nor stood any serious chance to, and yet they attacked each other like dogs anyway.
Specter was a lifelong entrenched Republican senator who realized the younger, more conservative Pat Toomey (R) was killing him in the primaries, and decided it was time to switch sides (Toomey now holds the seat). He became a Democrat just in time to take on Joe Sestak, former navy admiral and congressmen in a brutal yet pointless dirt fling.
First, the elder bandwagon-hopping Specter attacked Sestak’s naval record, saying in an ad that he was “relieved of duty in the Navy for creating a poor command climate.” Then Sestak attacked these “Republican-style” ads, but proceeded to put out an ad showing a photo of Specter right after his chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The point being that an old, unhealthy, Republican posing as a Democrat is not what Pennsylvania needed. Specter’s camp was livid that anything so awful could possibly happen in our world, much less by Sestak.
The Democrats in Pennsylvania agreed, nominating Sestak for the Senate seat he was soon to lose in the general election. Definitely a case of wasted dirt.