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The Nasty Presidential Campaign Cycle

We’re neck deep in what’s turning into a quite nasty presidential campaign season. I honestly had such high hopes at the beginning of this whole mess. After Iowa, things looked great. Voter turnout was up and people seemed to care about changing the rampant partisan bickering and sniping that politics in this country became back in the days of Nixon.

So much for all of that.

Ironically, it seemed to start with Hillary Clinton’s “tears that shook the Granite State” moment.

Pundits wrote her off. John Edwards made a comment to the effect that the President has to be “strong.” And then she won New Hampshire.

I like to think that it wasn’t the choked-up moment that did it. She did, after all, have a commanding lead in the (notoriously inaccurate) polls up until Obama’s Iowa win, and she squeaked out a popular vote win so narrow that it was a statistical tie for delegates.

She went on to win an uncontested, uncounted primary in Michigan and another narrow win in Nevada that also resulted in a statistical tie for delegates. And somewhere in there the smears started.

I don’t remember which comment came first. I think it might have been the MLK-LBJ one. Or maybe it was the mailings in New Hampshire saying that Obama had voted “Present” on a number of pro-choice bills in the Illinois state legislature. Perhaps it was the push-poll calls in South Carolina asking voters if they would still vote for Obama if they knew he was a Muslim.

The smear campaign prompted a prominent pro-choice activist, Lorna Brett Howard, to release a video saying that Senator Obama was the only pro-choice Senator to respond to requests to work against the abortion ban in South Dakota. In the video, Howard meaningfully says, “Every pro-choice Senator was asked.” This would, presumably, include Senator Clinton.

Back in 2000, the push-poll was on the Republican side, but it was just as ugly as the comments Bob Johnson made about not knowing what Obama was up to “on the streets of Chicago.”

In South Carolina, voters received calls asking if they’d still vote for John McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate African-American child. South Carolina, the only state still flying the Confederate flag, is not known for its racial tolerance. It went for George Bush. Who is now our President.

This season, robo-calls went out to South Carolina Republicans (including my mother) who thought at first they were being questioned by a polling organization. The call rattled off negative statistics about all the Republican candidates except Mike Huckabee.

Only if you listened to the recording all the way to the end would you learn that the call was paid for by Mike Huckabee.

The point of all this is that not everything you hear from a candidate is the truth. And they use push-polls and other such techniques to try to swing your vote away from their opponents rather than toward them. In my mind, there’s only one reason for such negativity–you can’t stand up on your own and criticize your opponents. We’ve had so many presidential debates that my head is spinning trying to keep up, and yet the candidates seem to have a hard time saying things out loud in a public forum.

There’s only one thing worse than push-polling and it’s outright voter suppression. We all know about the issues in Florida from 2000 (and if you don’t, I recommend to fill yourself in). If you receive a phone call telling you that the election date has moved, it’s probably this type of an attempt. If anyone tells you that you are not on the voter list, you have the right to a provisional ballot. You can also call campaign headquarters for your candidate of choice–they probably have a legal team just waiting to hear about challenges to their voters.

The latest news on the campaign trail involves those Democratic delegates from Florida and Michigan. As I wrote earlier in the season, Florida and Michigan moved their primaries ahead of February 5th against Democratic party rules. However ridiculous the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire may be, the party wanted to keep things that way. None of the candidates complained then. They all agreed not to campaign in Florida and Michigan, and the party agreed not to seat the delegates chosen at what would be a nonbinding primary.

Now the Clinton campaign says that those delegates need to be seated. Coincidentally, she’s already won Michigan, where she was the only one who left her name on the ballot. She’s also the only one with her name on the ballot in Florida.

40% of the voters who bothered to vote in a nonbinding Democratic primary in Michigan voted for “uncommitted.” Not having the option to vote for Barack Obama or John Edwards, presumably many voters stayed home as well.

The point really is not that we should disenfranchise Michigan and Florida voters by not seating their delegates. The point is that voters in Michigan and Florida already were disenfranchised by not having the actual candidates’ names on the ballot. By being told that their votes wouldn’t count so there was no reason to come out and vote. Sounds like voter suppression to me.

So if you get an email or a phone call that seems a little odd, that doesn’t immediately identify its source, go to the wonderful site and find out the truth. Or email it to me and I’ll see what I can dig up.

This is supposed to be a democracy, after all. We can’t insist on exporting democracy until we have it at home.

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