Copyrighted material


by Michael Winship

A Campaign of Sleaze

When I was in the second grade, there was a girl in another second grade classroom who had cerebral palsy. When we passed by the door on our way to assembly or the cafeteria we could see that, unlike all the other pupils, she sat behind an enormous electric typewriter -- to kids of our era, a contraption as sci-fi as time travel.

Her motions were jerky and convulsive. Of course, being the ignorant little charmers we were, there were jokes and imitations, whispers that she must be retarded or something.

Rush Limbaugh does the same thing. Of course, the difference is, WE WERE SEVEN YEARS OLD.

Doubtless, you have heard by now of the brouhaha ensuing when old Rush impugned the integrity of Parkinson's Disease-plagued Michael J. Fox and the political spots he made on behalf of candidates supporting stem cell research.

The ads show in grim detail the effects of the disease and the medication the performer takes to fight it. To which God's gift to the ether responded by jerking around spastically in his chair and announcing that Fox "is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act."

Limbaugh, in the immortal words of Marx -- Groucho -- I'd horsewhip you, if I had a horse.

(Nonetheless, Rush, if you'll supply the horse's behind, I'll figure out a way to come up with the rest.)

This whole Fox smear is, of course, just one aspect of the down and dirty, nasty, childish, embarrassing media slugfest that is American electoral politics. But as Michael Grunwald reported in Friday's Washington Post, "On the brink of what could be a power-shifting election, it is kitchen-sink time: Desperate candidates are throwing everything.

"The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit."

Not surprisingly, given either the self-righteous and priggish or leering, giggle-and-point, infantile attitude of many of those involved, lots of the accusatory ads deal with one aspect or another of, gasp, S-E-X.

There's the National Republican Campaign Committee ad accusing New York State Democratic congressional candidate Michael Arcuri of spending tax dollars by calling a fantasy chat line from a New York City hotel. Apparently, an aide -- not even Arcuri himself -- was calling the state Division of Criminal Justice and misdialed the prefix code. The billing records are pretty clear. Cost to the state: $1.25. Humor value: priceless.

Then there's the ad against a Wisconsin Democratic congressman claiming "Rep. Ron Kind Pays for Sex!" with "XXX" stamped across it. Congressman Kind opposed a move to prevent the National Institutes of Health from supporting peer-reviewed sex studies -- research in human sexual behavior, reviewed and evaluated by teams of expert scientists.

Other Dems have been accused of connections to a child rapist, the National Man/Boy Love Association and of supporting funding for the easy abortion of African-American babies. According to the Post, a voice in the ads, which have been used in some two dozen congressional races, says, "If you make a mistake with one of your ho's, you'll want to dispose of that problem tout de suite, no questions asked."

The race card also was played in the most notorious political spot of the year, funded by the Republican National Committee (RNC). It attacked Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr., an African-American, and featured a bare-shouldered blonde squealing, "I met Harold at the Playboy party!" The ad ended with her winking, "Harold, call me."

As Hilary Shelton, head of the NAACP's Washington office told the Los Angeles Times, "It is a powerful innuendo that plays to pre-existing prejudices about African-American men and white women."

The commercial also included a fake, sleazy looking Hollywood type saying, "So he took money from porn movie producers. I mean, who hasn't?"

Who hasn't, indeed. Josh Marshall of the website Talking Points Memo noted that the RNC "is a regular recipient of political contributions from Nicholas T. Boyias, the owner and CEO of Marina Pacific Distributors, one of the largest producers and distributors of gay porn in the United States." One of the production companies whose films Marina Pacific distributes gained notoriety when it was discovered that several soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division were involved in its porno tapes. All were disciplined; four stood court-martial, did time and were dishonorably discharged.

Oh, and don't get me started on Republicans and gay marriage.

Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein sums it up this week: "The Republicans unleashed a series of ads painting the Democrats as sex-crazed, homosexual-loving, porn-perusing -- and in the case of the novelist and Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb, porn-writing -- perverts." He refers to Republican Senator George Allen's release last week, via the GOP-obsequious Drudge Report, of steamy excerpts from his opponent Webb's literary oeuvre. The Senator has thus widened the field and is now running against fictional characters.

All of this is a distraction from what desperately needs to be addressed by next Tuesday's vote. You want to know what real pornography is? It's the vice president's disingenuous comments about waterboarding and other forms of torture. It's American servicemen and women placed in harm's way by tragic miscalculation. It's an Iraq so deadly people are afraid to leave their homes for fear of abduction or murder. It's a botched war in Afghanistan and a world that holds us in greater contempt than ever before.

It's children left behind and dirty air and abuses of the constitution by the executive. It's the $260 billion deficit: when this administration talks about cutting it, I'm reminded of the fireman who's a closet arsonist.

It's kickbacks and bribes and naysaying scientific research on stem cells and global warming. It's attacking the lame, the halt and the needy and making the lie as American as apple pie.

Monday's Washington Post quoted Karl Rove shrugging off possible losses next week as no great calamity to the conservative cause. "1938 was a huge wipeout for the Democrats," he said. "Do you think that was the end of the New Deal?"

Of course, if Rove had been around then, there wouldn't have been a New Deal at all. Think about that as you enter your polling place.

Dirty, isn't it?

© 2006 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

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Albion Monitor   November 2, 2006   (

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