Last week, I received on my iPhone an unsolicited blast email from the Democratic Party of Virginia. It was illuminating in a number of respects, not only about the approaching state and local elections in Virginia but also about the sort of campaign tactics we'll see more and more from the Democrats heading into 2012.
The message opened by telling me that the "smell of desperation is in the air," that "Virginia Republicans know they can't win on the issues" and are "trying to scare, intimidate or confuse voters." As a concerned Virginia citizen and voter, I naturally went to the website of the Virginia Republican Party to see for myself what scary and confusing material was lurking there, ready to deceive and deter voters. Right away, I found straightforward statements of the party's "values and principles," including such radical proposals as "lower taxes," "less and smaller government" and "personal responsibility."
There also was material aplenty on the Republicans' economic proposals, put forward nationally in the House of Representatives by Virginian Eric Cantor and others and at the state level by Gov. Bob McDonnell and his administration. The Republican site compared the national party's proposals and those of Mr. McDonnell with the positions of their Democratic opponents. It also pointed out that the Democrats seem to be the ones avoiding the issues, noting how assorted Democratic candidates have fled from any association with President Obama and the policies of the current Democratic administration in Washington.
Perhaps concerned not to overstate the Democrats' fear of their president, Virginia Republicans have launched a direct-mail scavenger hunt seeking to find a single Democratic candidate in Virginia touting either support from Mr. Obama or support for the president's policies. The initial idea for this contest was to find Democratic state Senate candidates running on the claim they had "worked with" Mr. McDonnell or distributing campaign material showing a picture of them with the Republican governor, but that idea was abandoned because so many "winners" were found immediately.
As for the Democrats, their website is awash with attack material aimed at portraying Republicans as radical right-wingers. But references to Mr. Obama and the administration's legislative and regulatory agenda were not easy to find. There were no pictures of the president; references to him were scarce; and the core policies of today's Democratic Party - higher taxes, more spending, bigger and more intrusive government - were well-camouflaged.
Maybe Democratic Party Executive Director David Mills, who authored the email, was confused about which party was afraid of the issues. Certainly, his strident claim that Republicans in Virginia are "running a slate of extreme right-wing candidates with no plan to create jobs [or] improve education" seems hard to square with the wealth of information about plans and policies that is readily available on the Republican Party's website.
Moreover, the message of the Democrats' unsolicited email to me did not end there. It also said Virginians had "received unsolicited text messages ... attacking Democratic candidates" and that the Democratic Party of Virginia "has reason to believe these text messages are illegal." The Democrats are trying "to determine where" these messages "are coming from." Then, after this acknowledgment that the source of the messages is unknown, the Democratic email states baldly that Republicans are "breaking the law and violating voters' privacy" and should be held "accountable for these underhanded and illegal tricks."
Think about it. The Democratic Party of Mr. Obama is accusing Republicans of attempting to "scare, intimidate or confuse" voters and charging Republicans with "underhanded and illegal tricks." The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Consider but a few examples among dozens.
Intimidation? This is the Democratic Party whose Department of Justice withdrew a voter-intimidation case it had already won against the New Black Panthers (a "far-left hate group," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center) who were videotaped scaring and threatening voters at the polls in Philadelphia.
Illegal? This is the Democratic Party that opposes any voter identification or other reasonable measures aimed at assuring the integrity of the election process and refuses to enforce voting laws aimed at removing dead and otherwise ineligible people from the voter rolls.
Scare tactics or confusion? This is the Democratic Party whose president claimed falsely that seniors might not receive their Social Security checks unless Congress agreed to increase the federal debt ceiling.
Whatever else it might be, the unsolicited email I received from the Democratic Party of Virginia is a leading indicator for the 2012 campaign. Because they cannot run and win on the Obama administration's record, Democrats can be expected to double down on personal attacks and class warfare and to continue their avoidance of substantive discussion of the important issues facing both Virginia and the nation. They will rely on accusation and on division. Their president has launched a campaign along these lines already, and unfortunately, this strategy will be aided and abetted by many in the media.
Concerned citizens and voters will have to get involved, pay attention and insist that the candidates focus on substance and not on slogans.
Ray Hartwell is a Washington lawyer, a Navy veteran and a longtime Virginian.
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