J. KARL MILLER: Attack ads are nothing new in elections

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:14 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 27, 2010

As we near the climax of yet another federal, state and local election campaign, we are bombarded again by the pundits, columnists, editors, bloggers and various organizations and citizens criticizing the dirty politics of mudslinging and attack ads. As echoed every two years since the 1790s, this election is described the dirtiest, sleaziest and most uncivil, by far, in history.

While obviously, my personal experience does not predate the 20th century (my earliest memory of election was President Roosevelt v. New York's Gov. Thomas E. Dewey in 1944), in all honesty, I have noted little difference in personal attack ads in more than 60 years. I suppose the allegations of increased odious behavior are based primarily on either media stoked controversy or whose ox is being gored; nevertheless, the conduct of political elections is all too predictable.

This is hardly an endorsement of unprofessional and offensive campaign tactics. I agree with much of my Missourian colleague, David Rosman's "Political attack ads are worthless in making smart decisions" and I applaud Missouri House District hopeful Kelly Schultz's efforts to run a civil, issue-oriented campaign. The "has done his/her homework" informed voter is neither swayed nor impressed by purely political or personal attacks.

Nevertheless, advantages do accrue from attack ads and other obnoxious skullduggery. If these tactics were not in some way beneficial, they would have long since fallen to disuse. Face it, political advertising is not cheap — only effective methods survive.

There is of course an entertainment factor in mudslinging. Imagine a candidate for office standing before you with the following: "My worthy opponent is upright, honest, caring, intelligent and filled with integrity — clearly dedicated to motherhood, apple pie and the flag and unalterably opposed to sin in any form. However, I implore you to vote for me instead because I am more upright, honest, caring, integrity sated, ad infinitum." Can anyone imagine a more humdrum, boring process?

Also, since politics is a contact sport, political campaigning is not unlike training or driving mules — first the candidate must obtain and hold the constituency's undivided attention. I won't attempt to describe the art of gaining a mule's attention as I am certain there are a few who understand, but keeping voters motivated requires a continuing supply of read meat in the form of strong and persistent rhetoric.

Finally, albeit unfortunately, the use of hateful, ad hominem and demeaning attack ads actually works. The lazy, uninformed, usually apathetic or purely emotion driven voter will buy into the rumor, innuendo, lies and damn lies of unprincipled candidates or political organizations. Enough of the electorate is either sufficiently gullible or lacking in political acumen to carry an election or a proposition down the wrong path, regardless of party affiliation.

Consequently, the informed voter will take with a grain of salt these hoary fairy tales: "Democrats are European wannabe socialists," "Republicans want to take away your Social Security," "Democrats are soft on crime and anti-defense," "Republicans are racist warmongers," "Democrats are the party of the working man/woman" and "Republicans are the party of the rich." One who subscribes to one or more of these myths and votes accordingly is due a reality check.

We are subjected to barrage after barrage of this propaganda drivel — the educated among us know that any scintilla of belief in these charges exists solely on the lunatic fringe of either party. Nevertheless, those outre' types are out there along with the uninformed and emotional bleeding hearts — they can turn an election or an amendment/proposition.

Missourians have not been immune to approving such wrong-headed issues — term limits come to mind. We have a rather full and lengthy ballot in Boone County — a slate of federal, state and local candidates, along with three Constitutional amendments, two statewide propositions and City of Columbia Propositions 1 and 2.

If you intend to exercise your right/privilege to vote, please do so responsibly — know the candidate and understand the issues — recovery from an unwise decision is a lengthy and painful process.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Ray Shapiro October 27, 2010 | 12:18 a.m.

No problem for me this year.
I will not vote for any Dem.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2010 | 12:35 p.m.

"Republicans want to take away your Social Security," - maybe not all Republicans.
Although, it is in the Pledge - page 24. I read it. Maybe you should, too.

In addition - Sharon Angle, Joe Buck, Joe Miller and Randall Paul, at least, are all on record as saying they do.
Heck, even GW Bush said the greatest mistake of his presidency was that he wasn't able to privatize it.

Check your facts, it's not a hoary fairy tale if it's true.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman October 27, 2010 | 1:14 p.m.

Karl - As always, a super job and thank you for the compliment.

Mr. Bush - In fact we do not know what Angle, Buck, Miller or Paul stand for. Since the primaries, they have all changed their campaign messages and are sounding more like the main stream politicians most TPMers dislike. The attack ads from Crossroads and other conservative groups have become striking, and your gang of four have not denounced them at all.

Mr. Shapiro - That is fine by me, I won't vote for any Republican this year (though, I must admit, I have in the past).

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2010 | 3:13 p.m.

I meant Ken Buck. Joe Buck is a fine sportscaster and doesn't belong in that company.

Mr. Rosman,
Perhaps you don't know what they stand for, but I have been listening to them.
Moreover, it's in The Pledge.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller October 27, 2010 | 7:46 p.m.

Mr Bush, you are indeed entitled to your own opinion but, not your own facts. President Bush's plan did not call for privatization of social security but rather, a partial privatization--which, by the way was the brainchild of Senator Moynihan,the late and highly respected liberal Senator from New York.

The idea was to take part of an individual's social security withholding along with a similar segment of the employer's contribution for investment, giving the individual a vested interest in a portion of his retirement income. Contrary to the popular misinformation provided you by the Democratic Party and the DNC, this program was to be completely voluntary--e.g., the individual taxpayer could opt out and remain on social security as before.

The other popularly quoted misconception that the privatized portion would be invested automatically
in the stock market is false also. Under the Bush privatization plan, the individual could invest the funds as he/she saw fit--in savings bonds, money market, savings account or the stock market.

A good rule of thumb is to TRUST but VERIFY that which is gleaned from sources that tend to support your preconceived notions.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 27, 2010 | 9:29 p.m.

Good, take Social Security away and make people actually invest for retirement with dignity instead of heaping it upon the backs of our children and grandchildren with increased payroll taxes.

(Report Comment)
John Bliss October 27, 2010 | 10:01 p.m.

Colonel, only Roosevelt? I thought you could clear up some Lincoln questions I had!! Once you should remember is when LBJ was asked if he stopped abusing his farm animals? Anyway he answered he was shot! Try that "Moonbean" Brown!!!

thanks for you writing, God Bless

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2010 | 10:21 p.m.

"Contrary to the popular misinformation provided you by the Democratic Party and the DNC, this program was to be completely voluntary--e.g., the individual taxpayer could opt out and remain on social security as before."
It's funny - I never read what either the Democratic Party or the DNC have to say. What you describe may a distinction without a difference.I can't take your word for - after all I must distrust and verify what you have to say.
It seems you haven't read The Pledge - tis a shame you support a party without reading what it says about itself.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 28, 2010 | 9:35 a.m.

I'll see if I can sneak this in the comments seeing the Prop B tsunami continues...

Social Security is a lousy deal for everyone, says Paul Cwik, associate professor of economics at Mount Olive College. But it's particularly bad for today's young workers. Consider a person born in 1988, making $30,000/year:

"Social Security and Medicare taxes are 15.3% of his income. If he invested that 15.3% of his income instead, he would be investing $4,590. Supposing that this annual contribution was invested each year for the next 48 years and the principal was collecting 5% interest, instead of the Social Security value of $212,938.88, he would have $863,036.55! That's a little more than four times the return that Social Security is 'promising.'

"Or, to drive the nail home, he is paying $4,590 a year and is getting a future value of only $212,938.88. If he simply took that money and buried it in the dirt, he would have, after 48 years, $220,320! The bottom line is that, for today's 21-year-old, Social Security is a negative return."

(Report Comment)
Andrew Hansen October 28, 2010 | 9:58 a.m.

"Prop B tsunami" doubt. 'Round and 'round they go saying the same things over and over. It's like watching a puppy chase it's tail.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 28, 2010 | 10:45 a.m.

While we disagree - I do appreciate your intellectual honesty.

I did miss a consequential word in my first post - "partially."

But the author won't address The Pledge, here's the pertinent sentences - "We will make the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs for today’s seniors and future generations. That means requiring a full accounting of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, setting benchmarks for these programs and reviewing them regularly, and preventing the expansion of unfunded liabilities." (Page 24 of the pdf and 22 of the document)
My benefits, in 28 years, are currently unfunded liabilities. They want to take away my Social Security.
It ain't a hoary fairy tale if it's true.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller October 28, 2010 | 12:54 p.m.

Mr. Bush: Why would I wish to address "the pledge?" As I recall, the subject of my column was Campaign Attack Ads. My only reference to Social Security is in a short paragraph describing themes to which informed voters give short shrift. I don't want to take your social security, Mr Luetkemeyer does not, Mr Blunt does not, President Bush did not nor will the next Republican President.
I am not sure what you find objectionable in " - "We will make the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs for today’s seniors and future generations. That means requiring a full accounting of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, setting benchmarks for these programs and reviewing them regularly, and preventing the expansion of unfunded liabilities." Is that not what we elect our representatives to do?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro October 28, 2010 | 1:20 p.m.

A fiscally conservative federal government which works in tandem with the nonprofit sector, private businesses, churches and respects states' rights would result in a country which achieves some balance in meeting social welfare needs.
The pendulum has swung too far, thanks to the Lefty-Liberal Progressives. Rhino-Republicans are not the answer either. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any Blue Dogs left in the Democrat Party. A message needs to be sent to the Dems. I will not vote Dem until the party cleanses itself of these Progs. We are not France!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 28, 2010 | 1:23 p.m.

The sad fact is that it isn't your Social Security. The Supreme Court has ruled several times that you don't have rights to it. That's why I think private investment for retirement is the way to go for everyone under, say age 50 or so.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 28, 2010 | 8:40 p.m.

When I was young, my parents took my brother, my sister and me to Mount Rushmore. As we were approaching, my sister said, "Until I see it with my own eyes, as far as I'm concerned, it's a myth."
While I concede that not every Republican wants to "take away your Social Security," I did mention 4 that do.
I stand by my statement - with a caveat: both Randall Paul and Ken Buck have flip-flopped on this issue so many times, they make Senator John Kerry look like a wind surfer. But they've flip-flopped so many times that neither one of us can be sure that they won't. Maybe that's what Mr. Rosman meant when he said we don't know what they stand for.
So here, without further ado, here are the facts of the others that I listed.
Sharon Angle -

Here's Ken Buck - (again Joe Buck is an honorable sports caster)

Here's Miller:
And it's hard to tell what the flip-flopper Randall Paul will do if elected - but this is from Forbes -

Overall, I agree with the premise of your piece, Colonel. Attack ads are back.
With respect to Mr. Schultz - even private assets can be seized after due process - and sometimes before. See American's for Forfeiture Reform.
My point with respect to The Pledge is: if your going to comment on what is and isn't true - you ought to at least read the documents they provide.
And if I may sling a little mud back at you, you shouldn't always believe what Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's News Corp. always feeds you.
It ain't a hoary fairy tale, if it's true.

(Report Comment)

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