In attacking political foes, go for the jugular

President Richard Nixon and his people knew how to do politics right. Forget those pathetic TV ads and rude bumper stickers – they had political espionage down to an art form. It was, essentially, political

President Richard Nixon and his people knew how to do politics right. Forget those pathetic TV ads and rude bumper
stickers – they had political espionage down to an art form. It was, essentially, political sabotage by any means necessary, ethics be damned. They pretended to be people working democratic campaigns and canceled or switched candidate rallies, carried out offensive voter canvassing
and sent out fake press releases and other documents.

They also spied, stuffed ballot boxes and generally wreaked havoc on Nixon’s opponents.

They didn’t kid themselves. Political campaigning is a dirty business. It borders on being unethical. They just got rid of the bordering part and embraced the unethical.

Today is different. The campaigners today
are mere novices. They tear each other apart as much as they can, while trying not to seem sleazy. This year, Bob Casey and Rick Santorum and Ed Rendell and Lynn Swann have spent endless amounts of time and money insulting each other on television.

Santorum’s ads scream that all of Casey’s campaign people are so corrupt, flashing jail sentences and sums of money across the screen, and implying in the end that Casey hosts his campaign meeting in a jail cell.

But the commercial doesn’t say this directly – it uses a blurry picture of a jail cell. If Santorum is going to bad-mouth his opponent, then he should at least have a little backbone when he goes for the kill.

Casey, who can only wish that he had that kind of ammunition against Santorum, tries to scare liberals by comparing Santorum’s voting record to that of President George W. Bush. Liberals wouldn’t vote for a republican anyway, so he shouldn’t waste his breath. This cannot be the most damaging information attainable
on Santorum. Pssh, amateurs.

Swann’s most recent attacks on Rendell are just bizarre. Some guy drags around a life-size cardboard Rendell, and questions suburbia on property tax reform. Most act annoyed, though whether it’s because of the two-dimensional Rendell or the nut job talking to the cardboard cutout, we’ll never know. And that’s the extent of the commercial – Rendell is a bad guy. It doesn’t have anything constructive to say.

Rendell, the last of the season’s four biggest names in Philly, goes the way Santorum did: accuse without actually accusing. Swann won’t release his tax returns and his business practice is “under scrutiny.” In other words, he’s just short of saying Swann is crooked. Stop dancing around what you really want to say, Rendell, and just say it.

In all fairness, the risk of slander and libel charges is the problem. Yet they come so close as it is, it doesn’t make much difference if Rendell says Swann aligns himself with legislators “responsible for some of the worst abuses in the country,” or if he just calls him a crook.

They should all collectively agree to go for the jugular, with no lawsuits. That is all they want to do anyway.

It might behoove these politicians to plug themselves, rather than attack their competition, which they do to a certain extent, however small it may be.

The problem is that some particularly cutthroat politician, somewhere in history, got this ball rolling. He attacked his competition, at some point his competition attacked back and an American tradition was born.

It is a tradition that leaves politicians looking as dirty as a couple of mud wrestlers. And one that often results in an interesting choice for the American public: which politician is the lesser of two evils? (See the 2004 presidential election).

The Nixon campaigner’s political sabotage
didn’t catch on quite so quickly.

Apparently it was too dirty for our politicians. But, what’s the point of stopping when the politicians’ feet are already on the line, itching to cross over? Why should politicians deny themselves?
Learn from Nixon. Be creative and sneaky, and show a little chutzpah while you’re tearing the other person apart.

Ashley Helaudais can be reached at

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