Vote for your party or against another?

The mudslinging in the US elections gives a deep impression

In Germany, mudslinging is still the exception in election campaigns. The last major scandal was four years ago. In 2002 the CDU presented an election poster with the then chancellor Gerhardt Schroder as a criminal (call for violence). The media immediately put the CDU in its place, and the poster was removed from circulation the next day. The situation is different in the USA, where for decades people do not talk about their own politics in the election campaign, but rather try to make their opponents look bad. Thanks to YouTube and Google Video, everyone in this country who can’t understand why Americans vote for such politicians can finally get a picture of the situation.

Do you vote for your party or against another?

The "wanted poster" of the CDU, showing only the opponent. So you should vote for the CDU because the SPD is bad, not because the CDU is good – such a logic is only successful in politics: Imagine McDonald’s became "I love it" give up and "I hate Burger King" imports. Image: CDU

It would be too much to ask if one wanted to find out about important political content on election posters or in TV commercials. Of course, each medium has its weak and strong points, the latter being more visual in television and on posters. It also goes without saying that political advertising must by definition be manipulative – in fact, this is one of the ways in which its success can be measured. As an elector, it is important to be able to read the messages correctly, so that you know how they are being manipulated.

Harold Ford

Now, thanks to the Internet, the Germans can also get a picture of the daily mudslinging in US politics. Let’s start with the grossest scandal: In Tennessee, the Republican party disparaged its Democratic opponent, Harold Ford (a black man, by the way), in a television ad. For German viewers, the rapid litany of accusations could not be understood, not only linguistically, but also because important background information is missing. Here is a list of what are considered to be exaggerated left-liberal opinions pro Ford in the order they appear in the TV spot (explanations in brackets for better understanding):

  1. Harold Ford looks good, and that’s enough (because this opinion is held by a black woman, critics claim, the commercial "borderline racism" ["borderline racism"])
  2. Even terrorists need their privacy (the left is accused of pushing civil rights too far)
  3. You are still allowed to pay taxes on your deathbed with the democrats (here they allude to the inheritance tax, which the republicans call only the "death tax" in the last years)
  4. A "Blonde", who wears only a necklace, claims she met Mr. Ford at a playboy party (see below)
  5. A woman thinks she would love to become higher "Marriage taxes" pay taxes on marriage (it is about spousal splitting, and here again it becomes clear how the Republicans like to deliberately turn the terms around, so that everything is seen as a tax on something)
  6. Canada should take care of the case of North Korea, because the Canadians had time for it (probably it is meant that only the USA has the strength to save the world for democracy – Canada does not do it anyway ["they’re not busy"])
  7. Ford is said to have accepted money from porn producers – but who hasn’t?? (see below)

Ford tried to deny the accusation that he had been to a Playboy party by claiming that he had never been to a party at Hugh Hefner’s famous estate. In the end, however, he had to admit to having attended a football party thrown by Playboy. To this he explained: "I like fubball, and I like girls". With that, he may have found sympathy with most Americans.

The blonde from the Republican campaign commercial

Criticism of the ad was overwhelming, but it apparently ran for a good week anyway and was not taken out of circulation early like the CDU mugshot, but the Republican party said the ad was simply not used after its scheduled run time expired. Meanwhile, a blogger has neatly dissected the ad. He points out that Republicans overall take more money from porn producers than Democrats, but he doesn’t reveal whether Republican voters spend more money on it than more Democratic-leaning Americans.

Now this new TV spot is running instead, in which the Republican candidate is again not to be seen at all, but only this Ford, who is known to be connected to the porn industry, supports gay marriages, wants to subsidize abortions by the state, and wants to "The morning-after pill" to schoolgirls – so this is what a commercial looks like when the Republicans shift down a gear. On the persistent subject of porn, there is a fair amount of hypocrisy involved, because in 2002 Americans already spent three times more on porn than on Hollywood movies. Ironically, the new Republican TV ad against Ford closes with the accusation that he has "Hollywood values" (Hollywood is also considered left-liberal, after all, some actors like George Clooney are mobilizing against Bush; at least since McCarthy, the Republicans have been targeting Hollywood).

Only Republicans hit below the belt line?

It may be that the first TV spot against Ford was really ubel, but it’s still not a real exception, as the second one shows. One thing both have in common not only with the wanted poster of the CDU, but also with more or less all other television spots for the coming "mid-term elections": It is always primarily about the opponent, not about one’s own politics. From there, it’s just a short step to mudslinging.

Do you vote for your party or against another?

From a commercial of Ford against his competitor

This is best shown by the television commercials of Harold Ford himself. Here he accuses his Republican opponent Bob Corker not of advocating bad immigration policies, but of having hired illegal immigrants himself as an employer at one time or another. But at least: The policy he represents is mentioned briefly at the end, because Ford promises to take action not only against the immigrants themselves, but also against such employers. But in other commercials, only Bob Cocker’s bad offenses are denounced; thus, 31.000 emergency calls went unanswered when he was mayor. To what extent this was his fault remains the secret of the democrats – the interested voter is not enlightened in any case.

In a new spot, Ford responds to what he sees as his opponent’s misleading claims, including proudly stating from a pew in a church that he voted for the Patriot Act. In what way he differs from his opponent, he does not say. A voter who sees the Patriot Act as an unreasonable intrusion into his privacy has lost out in Tennessee.

Republicans have half-won the election by dominating the discourse and putting their opponents on the defensive. Aming this one case, the Democrats seem to be playing fairer. Is this true in general?

In Republican Paul Nelson’s election video, 9/11, Iran, Iraq war and immigration from Mexico are ramped up against the Democratic competitor

The left-wing political blogosphere is at any rate convinced of this – who would be surprised?. But the U.S. media is of a different opinion: They smell a tendency to the left among the established newspapers and TV stations "too left" can be, if they reproach themselves). While the Washington Post admitted that Republican Paul Nelson’s spot in Wisconsin playing off 9/11 and more was completely unacceptable, it was still typical – and for both parties.

Nonetheless, the worst traps the Washington Post lists are from Republicans – with one exception: Republican John Sweeney was probably at a fraternity party, which is apparently why you should vote Democratic.

Otherwise, all the gaffes are from Republicans, such as the spot against Democrat Michael Arcuri, who apparently misdialed once and ended up with a phone sex operator. Another spot against Arcuri – you really can’t say "for the Republican," because the Republican isn’t even mentioned – recalls George Bush Senior’s accusation against Democrat Dukakis in the 1992 presidential campaign: Dukakis was "soft on crime" and had already once released a bad violent offender again.

Even more absurd is the flyer against a Democrat whose lawyer has also represented a child shander on why you should vote Republican. The Washington Post, however, strives for neutrality and, despite the obvious skew to the disadvantage of the Republicans, thinks that the Democrats were also hit hard by putting all Republican politicians close to George W. Bush jerk.

Election video against Democrat Michael Arcuri

Whether this is below the belt line? Anyway, to the accusation of leftist bias among journalists, the head of news at ABC (one of the four gross television networks) said the media finally had to prove to conservatives that they want to do everything better (imagine Ulrich Wickert, who had himself pictured as a subscriber to Greenpeace magazine, had said the same thing). An ABC report could not identify any slippage among Democrats, but stated that it was only "a question of time", until the Democrats sink to the level of the Republicans.

In response, on Friday, the anonymous blogger billmon – presumably an established U.S. journalist who reports, among other things, from the summits in Davos, and attaches great importance to his anonymity, because he is probably afraid for his job – said that ABC has the Democrats "preventively scolded". Billmon also points out that Republicans spent 90 percent of their campaign budget (more than $50 million) sniffing around Democrats’ personal lives. Thus, the political program remains largely unknown to the electorate, if there is one.

Political disenchantment is called for

Mud-slinging in politics is a tradition, and the Republicans in particular seem to know no bounds. Faced with a possible political landslide in the coming elections, Republicans are only more desperate this time around.

But this story is also a cautionary tale for anyone interested in democratic elections. The election campaigns in the USA show above all that it should be made difficult for political parties to talk only about their opponents. As soon as you have to concentrate on your own politics, it is difficult to mud-sling, and you always run the risk of making yourself look bad.

The constant hammering of the opponent promotes disenchantment with politics. Democracy cannot be helped by the fact that one is always against candidates and never for which. YouTube shows how far the focus on the opponent is already in the USA: If you enter the name of a candidate there, you don’t get to see predominantly his spots, but the spots against him. Nevertheless, we don’t want to hide the fact that there can be one or the other quite charming commercial, in which only the opponent and the whole political system is badmouthed.

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