Just another dirty election campaign
November 3, 2006
Did Congressman Jim Gibbons, the Republican candidate for governor, really make a pass at a Las Vegas cocktail waitress? No one really knows (except for Gibbons and his accuser), but that didn’t stop the five-term congressman’s political opponents from accusing him of sexual assault a few days before Tuesday’s general election.
That’s the disgusting way political campaigns are conducted these days as sleazy political consultants from both major parties eagerly look for dirt and embarrassing incidents in order to spring last-minute surprises on the opposition. It’s become the American way of politics and it’s not likely to change any time soon because it works more often than not.
My very conservative friend Bob Thomas put the Gibbons incident into perspective on the Appeal Web site last week. “Gibbons wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier,” he wrote (I heartily agree), “when he fell for that Las Vegas cocktail waitress sting hook, line and sinker.” Thomas thinks the political sting was orchestrated by “a real pro” and blames Gibbons’ “innocent stupidity.” Well maybe, but I doubt whether we’ll ever know if the accusation is true. And if we do find out, you can be sure it will be long after the mid-term election is over.
Although the cocktail waitress is sticking to her story, Gibbons denies the charges and on Tuesday a Las Vegas judge ordered police to release surveillance videos of the alleged incident at Gibbons’ request. Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, Gibbons’ opponents dredged up a 20-year-old story about how the GOP candidate and his wife supposedly hired an illegal immigrant nanny in the 1980s. An attorney produced the nanny, Martha Sandoval, who accused the tough-on-immigration congressman of exploiting “undocumented” (i.e. illegal) workers. A Gibbons spokesperson responded by accusing Sandoval of participating in a political smear orchestrated by partisan lawyers working for the gubernatorial campaign team of Democrat Dina Titus, who has been dubbed “Dina Taxes” by Gibbons supporters.
The Reno congressman’s problems got worse on Wednesday when the Wall Street Journal published a story alleging that he has questionable ties to the owner of eTreppid Technologies, a Reno-based high-tech company. Gibbons said the owner is an old friend and called the article a “hit piece.” On and on it goes.
Although the race between Democrat Jill Derby and Republican Dean Heller for Gibbons’ Northern Nevada congressional seat isn’t nearly as nasty as the Gibbons-Titus mudfest, stupidity prevails in their campaign ads with two political moderates accusing each other of being dangerous extremists. Derby says Heller is an ultra-conservative Bush clone and Heller says Derby is an ultra-liberal politician who’s out of touch with “Nevada values” (both are native Nevadans). I can’t understand why candidates pay political consultants thousands of dollars to come up with this stuff.
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The negative campaigning only gets worse on the national scene. One ridiculous TV ad alleges that a candidate favors taxpayer-funded fantasy sex hotlines, another claims that a candidate wants to use tasers on 7-year-olds and a third accuses incumbent congress- men of voting against body armor for our troops in Iraq. “Nasty, misleading ads have been around for decades, and it’s impossible to prove empirically that the 2006 campaign tops them all,” wrote Linda Feldmann of the respected Christian Science Monitor, “but the wave of over-the-top claims has caught the attention of both casual observers and professionals.” Ms. Feldmann noted that negative campaign ads can frequently be seen as a sign of desperation, which is what we’re seeing in close contests around the nation, where candidates are running neck-in-neck and knee-deep in political mud.
Perhaps the most talked-about ad of 2006 is one that took a not-very-subtle shot at Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., of Tennessee, an African-American Democrat who’s running for the seat being vacated by retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The ad, which ended with a scantily-clad blonde saying “Call me, Harold,” was perceived as racist by many viewers since Ford is black and the blonde bimbo was white. The Monitor concluded that “the uproar over the ad (before it was pulled) demonstrated that sensitivities about possible racial innuendo are alive and well in American politics,” especially in the South. How depressing!
According to the Monitor, “the Republicans are beating the Democrats in the race to the bottom.” A report released last week by Factcheck.com revealed that House Republicans have spent $41.9 million attacking Democrats and $5 million supporting Republicans, an 8-1 ratio of negative to positive advertising. On the other hand, Democrats have spent $18 million on attack ads and $3.1 million on positive ads, a 5-1 negative to positive ratio. That’s a decisive vote for negative campaigning with both major parties participating enthusiastically in the political mud-wrestling.
“It’s equal opportunity (negative campaigning),” said Arlington, Va., campaign ad analyst Evan Tracey. “The Republican Party isn’t Darth Vader and the Democrats aren’t Luke Skywalker. It’s basically, once one goes negative, everybody goes negative.”
Even though we complain bitterly about negative TV ads, enough voters appear to be influenced by such advertising to make attack ads a cost-effective investment for candidates of both parties, and cynical consultants rake in the big bucks as our political system deteriorates. It isn’t a pretty picture, and it will probably get worse before it gets better. Watch for more last-minute surprises before Election Day. You can do your part to combat this disturbing trend by voting for candidates who take the high road in their campaign advertising.
I’ll see you at the polls on Tuesday.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, will be a poll worker at the Carson Mall on Tuesday.