today in black history

April 18, 2024

Hampton University (Institute) was founded on this date in 1868 in Virginia to educate newly emancipated Blacks.

Negative, OK. Lies, Unacceptable.

POSTED: October 07, 2008, 12:00 am

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Political pundits and voters like to decry so-called negative campaigning, blaming it for all things evil in our political environment. The truth is that in politics sometimes going negative is not only acceptable but necessary if your opponent has traits or demonstrated behavior that is counter to the best interest of the electorate. Having “gone there” myself a time or two on behalf of candidates I have advised, it’s never where you want to be but sometimes where you have to go to make your point.

So, one should expect in the final weeks of this campaign, for both campaigns to come out swinging. For example, for Senator McCain to bring up Senator Obama’s relationship with convicted Chicago developer Tony Rezko and Senator Obama to reference McCain’s role in the infamous Keating 5 scandal. In my mind, fair game for both sides.

The problem, of course, is that negative campaigning can go south quickly and drift into the world of hearsay, innuendo and outright lies. Therein lies the concern I have with Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain’s pronouncement that his campaign is about to go on the offensive against his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama. The overlay of race makes such negative campaigning potentially more toxic as McCain’s handlers will likely seek to exploit divisions that are already evident in the electorate.

If Governor Sarah Palin’s tirade over the weekend is an indication of what’s coming from the McCain camp, we should expect to see the lowest of the low in gutter – not negative – but gutter politics. For Palin, who faces life as the answer to a trivia question post November 4, to resuscitate some of the smear tactics we saw early in the campaign against Senator Obama demonstrates her only use on the GOP ticket. As demeaning as the line of attack is – Obama is a terrorist sympathizer by virtue of his acquaintance with Weather Underground member William Ayers – what lies behind the attack is worse. The McCain camp is simply trying to infer Obama is a Muslim, and by association, someone who is aligned with the “enemy” overseas; an insult to a faith that the right is working furiously to demonize. Whether Mr. Obama is a Christian or Muslim is not the point. The McCain campaign is attempting to use coded, and not so discreet, messaging to incite white voters who are already queasy about the prospects of a Black President.

The latest poll numbers that show McCain losing ground will likely trigger a desperation move by the Republican’s campaign that could produce some of the ugliest attacks we have ever witnessed in electoral politics. With the nation’s economy reeling McCain is losing out on the bread and butter issues that Republicans thought would carry the day for those “working class white voters” they covet in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. The problem is that those voters aren’t buying McCain’s argument that he is the candidate to bring the country back from the abyss, and Governor Palin certainly has done little to strengthen his case. In fact, she may be the second most significant reason, behind the economic downturn, that McCain’s campaign is faltering.

So, what to expect in these closing weeks is anyone’s guess but most likely it won’t be pretty or factual. Don’t be surprised if you see McCain ads attacking Obama using shadowy figures with references to terrorists or 1960’s “radicals,” along with thinly veiled suggestions that the Democrat is a Muslim in hiding. Given the level of desperation in Sarah Palin’s bark, they might reach back and get those pair of white hands the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms used so effectively against Harvey Gantt years ago in one of the most racist ads ever aired.

The proliferation of lies over the airwaves can be stopped. News organizations, particularly broadcast and cable television outlets, have a choice. They can stop these attacks dead in their tracks by simply refusing to air spots that are misleading, aggressively challenge the veracity of claims when interviewing candidates, and making it widely known to the public that a candidate is simply lying. The threat of news outlets exposing a candidate would be enough to prompt the worst offenders to think twice before maliciously attacking an opponent.

Until that time when news organizations step up to the plate, it will be up to the voting public to not allow itself to be duped or insulted by candidates who believe the electorate is too stupid to see through the lies. The greatest rejection of such tactics comes from behind the curtain on Election Day. I for one pray that this nation will vote its hopes and not its fears on November 4.

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