Rick Perlstein: The Democrats won, but they shouldn't for a second let victory cause them to forget the Republicans' dirty tricks operation.
[Rick Perlstein is the author of Nixonland: The Politics and Culture of the American Berserk, 1965-1972, which will be published next year.]
Democrats have their majority in the House, and that's cause for celebration. But as of this writing several House races are still listed as "too close to call." The Senate has also changed hands -- after the Virginia race narrowly escaped a recount, and Republicans came close to challenging the results in Montana and Missouri. Whether Democrats possess enough of a congressional majority to truly put fear into Republicans, and add backbone to Democrats nervous about challenging the president, is still very much in the air.
Meanwhile, we are forced to reckon with an uncomfortable question. Republicans cheat. To what extend did their cheating on Election Day keep the will of the people from being fully registered? Just how close did it come to keeping the new majority from arriving? And what does the kind of cheating we saw Tuesday -- and its antecedents in the past and its likely echoes in the future -- portend for the project of turning liberalism once again into the dominant force in American politics?
Consider the robocalls. In the week before the election, voters in at least 50 different races began receiving calls in which recorded voices beckoned them by saying, "Hi, I'm calling with information about [insert Democratic candidate's name]…" The intention was obvious: get people thinking they were receiving a call from the Democratic Party. Maybe you didn't want to hear a message from the Democratic Party. Maybe you were in the middle of dinner. You hang up on the robot. But the robot called back -- a dozen, two dozen times. Those who listened all the way through were greeted with a litany of smears about the Democrat -- and then, at the very end, a legal disclaimer stating that the call came from the National Republican Campaign Committee. In Missouri, an email to radio host Diane Rehm related, every call "pound[ed] home the idea that one or the other Democratic candidate in Missouri … is in favor of killing babies."
In California's 50th District -- where Democrat Francine Busby had hoped to win a rematch against incumbent Brian Bilbray in Republican felon Duke Cunningham's former seat -- Busby staffers shut down their phone banks because they were reaching so many callers enraged at the "Hi-I'm-calling-with-information-about-Francine-Busby" deluge. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported receiving a tearful call from someone in Ohio explaining that she could no longer keep an open phone line to the hospice where her mother was dying on account of the calls. As for the calls' political effect, a spokesman for Lois Murphy -- who ended up going down to a narrow defeat against GOP incumbent Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania's 6th District -- relayed, "Some of our biggest supporters have said, 'If you call me again, I'm not voting for Lois.'"
NRCC spokesman Ed Patrus offered the defense of scoundrels, not citizens: they'd checked with their lawyers; they weren't doing anything illegal....
Cheating is by now a constitutive part of Republican culture. Such false-flag harassment was a crucial part of "ratfucking" operations in Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign -- to take just one example, Nixon agents circulated fliers in the Milwaukee ghetto advertising a non-existent "free lunch" sponsored by the Democrats. The Watergate hearings in 1973 and 1974 were full of these kinds of revelations. It didn't shame Republicans into retreating. It just made them more careful practitioners -- more careful, yet at the same time more brazen: consider those NRCC spokesmen. They could have denied the hustle. Instead, they owned up to it.
From now on there should be no excuse: anticipating such inevitabilities has to be made an active part of Democratic strategizing. The proliferating archive of PDF's, MP3s, and Youtube smoking guns has to be hauled out every two years -- round about a week before each election. Like those scrambled eggs in the anti-drug ads, Democrats need commercials of their own: "This is your government on Republicanism." The narrative should teach even low-information voters to sniff out the signs of a dirty trick. (It's not as if these things are tough to recognize. The only thing that's changed over the decades is the technology -- robocalls now; fliers for fake free lunches then.) That way, the dirty trick boomerangs: "Oh, yes. That's what the Democrats mean when they say Republicans cheat. God, I distrust those Republicans. I don't want them back in power ever again."...
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John Chapman - 11/17/2006
The offensive continues in other areas as well: Another appointment by Bush Jr. of a one medical Dr. Keroack who works his heart out for the Christian right is getting ready to relentlessly interfere in the personal sex lives of Americans.
“The Religious Right's man in Boston is set to become Bush's man for the nation ...”