As is appropriate and necessary, there's currently much attention being focused on the patently false GOP-supported swift boat ad. But, there's more to the nasty air wars raging across a handful of battleground states this political season. Spending on political commercials has gone through the roof, distortion reigns supreme and Bush has made
Last month, the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin reported that the campaigns are ignoring 60 percent of Americans who don't live in the swing states. Out of 210 media markets nationwide, only 93 of them are airing any political commercials. But in Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida the airwaves are thick with ads, and voters are under heavy bombardment in 14 or 15 additional states.
According to Ken Goldstein, director of the Advertising Project, the campaigns are fixed laser-like on "maybe two, two and a half percent of the voters" who "are actually persuadable in this race." But in the uncontested blue or red states (California, Texas, New York) where the outcome isn't in doubt, a kind of political famine has deprived voters of a firsthand look at this year's (nasty) give-and-take.
Bush is waging perhaps the most negative--and expensive--television assault on a challenger in modern times. Through mid-July, Bush had already spent $84 million on television advertising--most of it negative. His campaign, according to the Washington Post, is defined by "unprecedented negativity." Seventy-five percent of his ads, or almost 50,000 commercials through May 31st were devoted to attacking John Kerry. (Kerry, by contrast, went negative in only 27 percent of his ads during the same period.) In 30-second bombshells saturating the airwaves in swing states, Bush routinely misleads voters by charging that Kerry supported repealing wiretaps on terrorists; proposed a $900 billion tax hike on the middle-class; advocated a fifty-cent gas tax increase; opposed weapons systems that would have helped America fight terrorists, and failed to attend crucial Senate Intelligence Committee hearings.
The drumbeat of distortions is so nasty that even the watchdogs get tired of cleaning up so many White House smears. In April, FactCheck.org, which is sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said wearily of Bush's ad attacking Kerry's voting record on military hardware: "We've de-bunked these half-truths before but the Bush campaign persists."
Bush's surrogates--or as Maureen Dowd calls them, "Third-Party political assassins"--have also been busy boys. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, well-funded by big GOP donors, is running an ad charging that one of Kerry's Bronze Stars for bravery and two of his three purple hearts were the result of Kerry fabricating events. Sen. John McCain urged Bush to denounce the smear. But Bush and his cronies have refused to condemn the patently false ad. (On Friday, the Swift Boat attackers announced that they were unrolling another anti-Kerry TV ad--this one sliming his antiwar activity.)
Meanwhile, Kerry's campaign is finally responding. Last week, it filed a complaint against the group with the federal elections commission. But by the time the complaint was filed, more than half the country has already heard about or seen the Swift Boat ad, according to the Annenberg Center (Click here to read David Corn'sNation weblog for more on this deceitful ad.)
What's clear is that this incumbent, wartime president and his strategists will use dirty tricks and character assassination to win. "This is the bitterest, most unsavory campaign in the nation's history," McCain said this week. "And it's only going to get worse."
The latest poll numbers have only fueled Bush's desperation. In key battleground states, most polls suggest the President is hurting. (USA Today's latest numbers show Kerry with a 10 percentage point advantage in the key swing state of Ohio. ) The White House has decided that the way to stop the bleeding is to attack Kerry as a flip-flopper and a liberal. (And to use surrogates to do some of their dirty work.) That means jettisoning the campaign's pledge to use August to roll out a second-term agenda. (Remember Karl Rove telling the New York Times, "We need, as we go into the convention, to put more of an emphasis on our agenda. This gives us a chance to tell people what he wants to do over the next four years.") Instead, Rove & Co have gone negative, big-time--revealing Bush as the real flip-flopper in this campaign.
The current campaign system is broken in many ways. When it comes to the air war, these negative ads do little but bestow big benefits on large media companies, advertising agencies and political consultants. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group which tracks political advertising, candidates in 2002 at the federal, state and local levels spent a combined one billion dollars on political commercials (a four-fold increase from 1982). And the result? The public discourse was debased (remember
To try to address this spiraling madness, Senators McCain, Feingold and Durbin are introducing the "
On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the
Co-sponsored by The Nation and a host of other New York City-based progressive groups and organizations, the event will celebrate the courage of those resisting the conservative agenda sweeping the US today. Honorees include Aaron Lebowitz, a high school student in Darby, Montana who resisted a resolution to make creationism part of his school's curriculum;
Numerous artists--graphic, visual and musical--will present original work in honor of the Resisters, including Odetta, Steve Earle, Andre Gregory, Dan Bern, Blair Brown, Vijay Iyer, Martha Lavey, Mari Mariposa, Ellen McLaughlin, Omar Metwally, Tracie Morris, Mikel Paris and Beau Sia. Click here for tickets and info or call 212-992-8484.
The Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas is another of the many creative responses to the
When the curtain goes up on the Republicans' Big Show this Monday, there will be gospel and country music performers, elaborate videos and celebrities doing what they can to help market (and soften) Bush's agenda.
There will be also a special program called "Preachers and Patriots," replete with celebrity benedictions, choreographed by the convention's director of entertainment--Frank Bredeen, former head of the Gospel Music Association. The goal, Bredeen says, is to to use entertainment to market the party's political ideas: "Just like Cadillac uses Led Zeppelin to market its ideas," he added.
But strip away the compassion-themed entertainment and fake moderation of this "Reinvention" Convention and you'd end up with a schedule something like the one that arrived in my in-box the other day. Thanks to the merry and sharp satirists who sent it along.
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CONVENTION SCHEDULESeptember 30, 2004, New York, New York
6:00 PM - Opening Prayer led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell
6:30 PM - Pledge of Allegiance
6:46 PM - Seminar #1: Katherine Harris on "Are Elections Really Necessary?"
7:30 PM - Announcement: Lincoln Memorial Renamed for Ronald Reagan
7:40 PM - EPA Address #1: "Mercury: It's What's for Dinner"
8:00 PM - Vote on which country to invade next
8:15 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "The Homos Are After Your Children"
8:30 PM - Round-table discussion on reproductive rights (Men Only)
8:50 PM - Seminar #2: "Corporations: The Government of the Future"
9:00 PM - Condi Rice sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"
9:30 PM - Break for secret meetings
10:40 PM - John Ashcroft Demonstration: New Mandatory Kevlar Chastity Belt
10:45 PM - GOP's Tribute to Tokenism, featuring Colin Powell and Condi Rice
10:46 PM - Ann Coulter's Tribute to "Joe McCarthy, American Patriot"
10:50 PM - Seminar #3: "Education: A Drain on Our Nation's Economy"
11:10 PM - Hilary Clinton PiÃ±ata Party
11:20 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "Evolutionists: A Dangerous New Cult"
11:35 PM - Blame Clinton
11:40 PM - Newt Gingrich speaks on "The Sanctity of Marriage"
11:41 PM - Announcement: Ronald Reagan to be added to Mt. Rushmore
11:50 PM - Closing Prayer led by Jesus Himself
12:00 Midnight - Nomination of George W. Bush as Holy Supreme Planetary Overlord
Earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg offered, among other inducements, a ten percent discount at participating New York City Applebee's to all RNC protesters who picked up and presented a powder-blue NYC "Peaceful Political Activist" button.
The location of these Applebee's are some of the few points of interest to protesters not chronicled in The People's Guide, a free compendium of events, directions, legal resources, restaurant recommendations, hospital locations, and other valuable RNC-related material. "Intended to standardize communication among event-planners, protesters, media, tourists, wanderers, monitors, hangers-on, and friends," the recently published guide offers a tremendous amount of info on the anticipated protests, panels, presentations, performances and parties that are expected to greet the GOP delegates when they hit New York City.
Click here to check out The People's Guide, click here for a daily calendar of RNC-related events and click
If you're a recovering Deaniac who believes that Howard Dean's presidential run inspired legions of young people to get involved in politics, leveraged the internet's power to break the grip of big money on politics, and gave the Democratic Party a much-needed spine transplant, you probably already know about the "Dean Dozens" and the newly-formed political action committee, Democracy for America. But, if you don't, here's the early report.
Since May, Dean's DFA, has endorsed more than 60 candidates running in local, state and national races--from school board member in Huntsville, Alabama, to mayor of Salt Lake County, Utah.
For years, progressives have talked about taking a page from the Right's playbook. That means many things--from building think-tanks and media outlets to pioneering new web-based communications. But if our whole is going to equal the sum of our parts, progressives need to recruit, train and support hundreds of candidates at all levels.
In his speeches off the convention floor in Boston, Dean seemed keenly aware of the Right's success in defining our politics over the past generation by building independent institutions and operational capacities. At several points, he even invoked Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition (CC) as an example of how one group had succeeded in changing the GOP by taking over the party's key operations and structures.
At "The Take Back America" conference in Boston during DNC week, a feisty Dean urged supporters to run for local office--even if just the local library board. The centerpiece of his message to progressives: Let's put aside our small differences and take back our party. Or, as Dean said---picking up on what the late Senator Paul Wellstone told us: It's time to strengthen the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."
Toward that goal, Dean and "Democracy for America"--working with savvy progressive groups such as Progressive Majority (PM), and 21st Century Democrats--are committed to giving back power to citizens, and finding and supporting the next generation of grassroots leaders.
DFA supports candidates who are "socially progressive" but also "fiscally responsible." Some of its more than 60 candidates across the country include Suzanne Williams, running for a seat in the Colorado State Senate, Eddgra Fallin, running for the Huntsville, Alabama, school board, and Mary Jo Kilroy running for reelection as Franklin County, Ohio Commissioner. "They probably won't all win," says a key supporter of Democracy for America, "But the point is that they are almost all new to the political process and they will win eventually."
In fact, several Dean Dozen candidates have already scored victories:
* In Georgia, Judge Gail Tusan fought back a conservative onslaught and won re-election in July.
* Following her support of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan was challenged in a primary, and won with 87 percent of the vote.
* In Missouri, http://www.maria2004.com/index.html "> Maria Chappelle-Nadal won her closely fought primary to become the Democratic nominee for the 72nd State House District.
The latest Dean Dozen list includes three candidates for state representative in Hawaii--"running to unseat ultra-conservative Republican incumbents;" a candidate for the Colorado state senate and one running for the state house in Connecticut.
If you're an interested candidate, go to the DFA website for information. A " candidate questionnaire" can be filled out on the site. (Among the questions: "What role will grassroots organizing play in your campaign?") Some candidates receive DFA's endorsement because they are courageous enough to challenge conservative incumbents; others get the nod because of their deep community support, internet savvy, labor ties or links to grassroots organizations.
As Gloria Totten, veteran political organizer and Progressive Majority's director, put it, "The time is right for all the new organizing that is happening. George W. Bush and his wrong-headed policies have galvanized us." But, more importantly, she says, "There is an emerging leadership among progressives that is not willing to continue to be right on the issues and lose elections."
One of the best ways to give muscle to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, empower citizens, and build a politics of passion and principle--in November and beyond--is by recruiting progressives to take back power--from school boards to Capitol Hill. Howard Dean's "Democracy for America" is one of the key groups doing just that. Click here to learn more about DFA's efforts.
As virtually all Nation readers know, there are literally hundreds of events being planned to greet the Republican delegates when the GOP arrives in New York City to convene at the end of August. Kicking off the anticipated protests, panels, presentations and parties is this Friday's Beyond Bush: A Night of Visionary Resistance, taking place at Hunter College in Manhattan.
The keynote event of the
This all takes place at Hunter College's Assembly Hall this Friday, August 20, at 7:00pm. Click
Taking place this coming weekend, the
And check out the
We'll continue to highlight various events, protests and campaigns as the
With the stakes so high, this election may well bring a massive surge in voter registration. Sadly, the potential for widespread voter disenfranchisement due to incompetence, fraud and outright intimidation is as high as it was in 2000.
Lessons were learned in the debacle of "Selection 2000," but government has done little to reform the process. In addition to the problems associated with butterfly ballots and "hanging chads," as many as three million Americans were disenfranchised by so-called voter registration "glitches." Applicants never got onto voting rolls; Voters were sent to the wrong polling places; some were given faulty information about ID requirements.
And, although these problems still haven't been corrected three months before the presidential election, there's hope because of the America's Families United Voter Protection Project (AFUVPP), one of several good organizations fighting effectively to avert another 2000 fiasco.
AFUVPP says that monumental roadblocks to voter registration and a clean election remain, including the failures of government agencies to process voter registration forms properly; purges of voters from the rolls; voters appearing at the wrong polling place by mistake; improper and confusing ID requirements; intimidation of voters, and problems with ballots and voting systems. Concrete examples abound: in St. Louis, Missouri, election officials told voter registration workers that of 30,000 applications submitted, two-thirds had been rejected. No reasons were given; the Voter Protection Project is investigating the matter. (Missouri's rolls were wildly inaccurate in 2000, sowing chaos on Election Day.) In another state, watchdog organizations can't verify that "applicants have been placed on the roles" because --astonishingly--the state has a statute prohibiting the copying of registration forms that can be matched against the lists of voter applicants!
There's also the problem of voter intimidation. In Louisiana in 2002, fliers were posted in one African-American community urging people to vote on Tuesday, December 10th even though Election Day was Sunday, December 8th. In Texas, a group of African-American students were told that they weren't eligible to vote in the county where they attended college. Forty years after Freedom Summer, voter registration drives continue to face hostility from local law enforcement and private attempts. AFUVPP points out one voter registration office which "was recently visited by a local sheriff, who inquired into irrelevant matters such as the project's funders and employees." These are only a few of dozens of roadblocks AFUVPP is currently addressing.
These problems--as prevalent and sinister as Florida's infamous butterfly ballots--threaten a fair outcome in November's presidential election and serve to mock and menace the promise of a free and fair election. Under our current jerry-built system, local election boards often get overwhelmed and election workers are underpaid and poorly trained; in many cases applicants aren't placed on the rolls due to sheer human incompetence. The AFU's Voter Protection Project is absolutely essential to ensure that every eligible voter has access to the polls, and that every vote cast in 2004 gets counted.
The folks at the Voter Protection Project understand that they can't wait until Election Day to take action. Therefore, to fix the problems in our system, the Project has already launched a sophisticated campaign in as many as 100 counties (and approximately 20 states). The AFUVPP is monitoring registration efforts to ensure applicants get on the rolls. When problems are reported, the AFUVPP works with and watches local officials to correct the mistake, and it "re-register[s] applicants where necessary." The Project will act to clarify the ID rules and processes, to address their implementation and to educatevoters. And AFUVPP is working with "local monitoring and advocacy coalitions" and lawyers to protect voting rights for all Americans.
The AFUVPP, in conjunction with AFU's registration workers and non-partisan voting rights coordinators, is scrutinizing those states that "purge"ex-felons from the rolls to ensure that people's rights aren't violated. It is monitoring electronic touch-screen voting machines (which 30 percent of voters will use on Election Day) to prevent any tampering and ensure a credible result. And finally, armed with lawyers, poll monitors and other volunteers, the AFUVPP will provide training, guidance and legal support to international election observers in six states to guard the process on Election Day.
In a recent interview, Penda D. Hair, the director of the AFUVPP, underscored the need to "start way before the election with voter registration" to avert another 2000 election debacle. "What happened in communities of color went well beyond chads and butterfly ballots," she said, adding that there was "suppression and lost votes," which had a "ripple effect" that undermined people's confidence in the result. Working with state and local leaders and organizations like ACORN and US Action, the AFUVPP is pleased "to have so many allies" in this broad-based civil rights struggle, but it also understands the hard slog ahead.
The NAACP's Julian Bond and People for the American Way's Ralph Neas recently warned: "The bloody days of violence and retribution following the Civil War and Reconstruction are gone. The poll taxes, literacy tests and physical violence of the Jim Crow era have disappeared. Today, more subtle, cynical and creative tactics have taken their place."
If you want to assist the AFUVPP in the fight against voter disenfranchisement, click here and see how you can make a difference. In 2004, the true lessons of the 2000 debacle--beyond butterflies and "chads" must not be forgotten. At stake, isn't simply our choice for America's next president, but also our faith in our nation's democracy.
This editorial was originally published in the September 24, 1964 iss ue of The Nation. If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published on presidential politics, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to the Archive--an electronic database of every Nation article since 1865.
Missouri Governor Bob Holden learned how volatile globalization issues have become when his Democratic primary challenger, Claire McCaskill, started banging away on him for offshoring the state's