In the 1960s, Presidential campaigns played “dirty tricks” on each other but they were usually limited to things such as sending 100 pizza’s to the opponent’s campaign office in a small town where there might not be 100 residents let alone 100 volunteers to pay the bill.
Dick Tuck, dubbed “the Democrat’s pixie” by reporters, was the master of political pranks.
After the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, Tuck hired an elderly woman who put on a large Nixon button and embraced the candidate in front of TV cameras. She said, “Don’t worry, son! He beat you last night, but you’ll get him next time.”
Tuck’s most famous prank against Richard Nixon was dubbed “the Chinatown Caper.” During a Los Angeles campaign stop, Nixon visited Chinatown where a backdrop of children holding “welcome” signs in English and Chinese was waiting. As Nixon spoke, an elder from the community whispered that one of the signs in Chinese said, “What about the Hughes loan?” The sign referred to a $205,000 loan Howard Hughes gave Nixon’s brother, Donald. On camera, Nixon grabbed a sign and ripped it up.
Tuck is credited with waving a train out of the station while Nixon was still speaking on the rear platform. In the 1968 presidential campaign, Tuck utilized Nixon’s own campaign slogan against him, hiring a very pregnant and very young African-American woman to wander around a Nixon rally in a predominantly white area, wearing a T-shirt that said, “Nixon’s the One!”
So why this meandering stroll back through what seems like quaint American political history? Because dirty tricks are taking a very dirty turn. Today, they come in the form of caging voter rolls, name calling, guilt by innuendo and lying about not just an opponent’s record but your own. What George Bush supporters did to John McCain in 2000, McCain plans to do to Obama over the next three weeks.
Sarah Palin rolled out the first phase of the lies and innuendo campaign over the weekend with McCain joining in this week as they try cloaking Barack Obama with the activities of a man who committed foul acts when Obama was eight. But as I wrote yesterday in Ayers & Keating: One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other, it is a tough stretch to link a 40-year old event with someone who was a child at the time to today’s presidential campaign.
Polls are showing the Ayers attack on Obama is having a negligible effect.
So, now comes word that several right wingnut 527 groups supporting John McCain are preparing a series of quick hit, lie-and-duck, sleazy tricks in the waning days of the campaign.
Three independent sources report that at least one such shadowy 527 group is planning a one day radio campaign on the weekend before the election that will say, “You can’t trust a black man, how can you vote for one?” It is such a blatant appeal to racism, the ad will be scheduled to air only in a few southern radio markets on November 1 or November 2, just before the election.
But the strategy is almost evil in its simplicity. The plan is to air the 30-second spot just enough times to be heard by a large number of white voters but, more importantly, to be picked up by the mainstream media as a news story where widespread coverage is anticipated. Thus, it is hoped that the impact of the message will bleed nationwide, far beyond the handful of cities where it originally airs.
Meanwhile, with the ad originating with a supposedly unaffiliated 527 group, the McCain campaign will be in a position to shout “Shame on them!” while puffing its chest to demand that their “supporters” pull the advertising.
“Desperate times require desperate measures,” an official inside the McCain campaign tells me while denying any personal knowledge of a last minute, race baiting, ad buy. Well, I didn’t expect he would say “Yeah, sure, we know about it and hope it works.” Admitting knowing such an attack was coming would buy him 18 months in Danbury, the minimum security federal prison, because 527 groups are, by law, barred from having any contact with a campaign.
Voter Suppression by GOP
Meanwhile, the Republican Party itself is actively engaging in voter suppression.
AlterNet reports this morning that Republicans in key swing states – including Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Missouri – are using Social Security data to verify voter registration information from established and potential voters. The Social Security information, which is know to be filled with errors, is being used to purge “tens of thousands” of voters already on voter rolls, the New York Times reports, along with rejecting numerous new voter registration applications.
Of 7.7-million inquiries by states to the Social Security Administration to verify voter applications in 2008, nearly 2.4 million resulted in “non matches,” according to the agency. So, on Monday, it wrote to election officials in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio, urging them to “review their procedures” and citing the likelihood of numerous errors.
Voting rights attorneys maintain that the “name-matching” process not only violates the National Voter Registration Act on accepting or removing voter’s names, but also creates a new basis to challenge presidential results if the vote count is close on November 4.
Just what the country needs: Another Florida recount.
The fact is with the McCain-Palin poll numbers sliding off the edge of a cliff, the campaign has nothing left to pull from its bag of tricks other than dirty ones. Somewhere, Dick Tuck must be weeping.
The Progressive Curmudgeon
If you’re born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigative journalist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarities of modern times.
Other Articles by Charley James: