Public figures' records are fair game in political campaigns. It's not "mudslinging" unless it's untrue or employs "derogatory personal slurs," according to the Living Webster Dictionary.
If you lie or distort the facts so badly that they function as a lie, you're mudslinging. The current "Joe Soptic" TV ad by Obama supporters claiming that Mitt Romney caused a woman's cancer death fits that description.
In 1964, Democrats set the bar viciously low with the notorious "Daisy Girl" ad showing a little girl adorably counting off daisy petals just before a countdown to a nuclear blast, which ended in a mushroom cloud. The grim narrator urged people to "vote for President Johnson on Nov. 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
Although Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was not mentioned, the message was clear: Goldwater's "extremism" would blow up the world. If anything, Goldwater was a dove compared to the man who plunged America headlong into the Vietnam War, but the ad scared enough people to contribute significantly to LBJ's landslide.
The same kind of creative minds that gave us the "Daisy Girl" are back at it, so fasten your seat belts. When Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, presented his case for budget reform in 2011, Democrats produced a TV ad featuring a Ryan look-alike pushing a confused old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff as the narrator falsely accused Republicans of wanting to completely privatize Medicare. With "America the Beautiful" playing eerily, viewers saw her dumped off and falling.
Just when you thought that kind of smear couldn't be topped, a liberal PAC headed by former White House spokesman Bill Burton unveiled an ad last week accusing Mr. Romney of causing a woman to die of cancer. Joe Soptic, a lifetime Democrat and union member who had been laid off by GST Steel, owned at the time by Bain Capital, stares into the camera and tells how his wife died of cancer after Bain let him go. He blames Mr. Romney. If you didn't know the facts, you might be itching to take Mr. Romney out into an alley and work him over, or worse.
Following an uproar, the White House denied any knowledge of the ad or even of Mr. Soptic's story, according to Politico. Those prevarications unraveled when it turned out that Mr. Soptic had told the story during an Obama campaign conference call led by deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter in May and even had starred in an Obama campaign ad, also in May.
Asked on Aug. 8 about the recent ad, produced by the far-left Priorities USA Action, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he didn't "know the specifics." Ms. Cutter actually said, "I don't know the facts about when Mr. Soptic's wife got sick or the facts about his health insurance." Finally, traveling press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One that "we don't have any knowledge of the story of the family," according to Yahoo! News.
After the absurd denials were exposed, more inconvenient facts leaked out:
Mr. Romney left Bain Capital in February 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, seven years before Mrs. Soptic's death.
Mr. Soptic was laid off when GST declared bankruptcy in 2001, two years after Mr. Romney had left the company.
Mrs. Soptic had health insurance from her own employer until she lost her job in 2003 when she was injured. Later, she was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2006.
Even with the lies exposed, Priorities USA is still refusing to pull the ad. After all, it's powerful -- it makes Mr. Romney look as compassionate as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."
What counts is whether the ad works, not whether it's true. In his 1972 book "Rules for Radicals," Saul Alinsky, the guiding light of left-wing community organizers, advises activists to "pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
According to Alinsky, whose unabashed admirers include Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, the ideal activist is unencumbered by scruples:
"He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt and bloody."
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who said "the ends justify the means" in "The Communist Manifesto," were merely more succinct.
Chicago, where the dead vote early and often, is where Alinsky's disciples schooled young Barack in bare-knuckle tactics. Last week, Mr. Obama's former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, sided with the gangster comments of an alderman who said he would block Chick-fil-A from opening another store because Christian owner Dan Cathy supports marriage and the biblical family. Freedom of speech? Property rights? Freedom of religion? Oh, you are such a child!
But back to the attack ads. They're ubiquitous and hideous, and it's only August.
In South Florida, an ad created last fall but surfacing now portrays freshman Republican Rep. Allen B. West in boxing gloves, punching an old woman as a female narrator says, "West has socked it to seniors, voting to end Medicare as we know it."
The grinning, cartoonlike Mr. West then punches a young woman while the narrator says, "he's whacked women with his votes for huge cuts in women's health care funding." As a family is shown, the narrator says, "he's mauled middle-class families." The ad ends with Mr. West holding a fistful of $100 bills stolen from average Americans.
American Sunrise PAC, founded by Thomas P. Murphy, Jr., the father of Mr. West's opponent, Democrat Patrick Murphy, created the ad. The elder Mr. Murphy has funneled $250,000 into the PAC, along with $100,000 from frequent Democratic donor Ibrahim Al-Rashid of Miami.
The left does not have a monopoly on mudslinging, but count on the "mainstream" media to ignore or downplay anything that puts liberals in a bad light.
Everyone who loves liberty needs to get involved in the most consequential election in our lifetime. As Johnson's propagandist intoned, "The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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