Campaign politics: Playing Hardball
Let’s say you are among the millions of Americans who do not want to be called on the telephone by a person or by a robot trying to sell you some kind of commercial product or even a political candidate. In fact, you have gone to the trouble of placing all your telephone numbers on every “no-call” list.
You understand the First Amendment exception for political speech; however, you still do not want to listen to some human or some robot extol the alleged virtues of some political candidate or damn the alleged vices of some other political candidate. Fortunately, you still have the freedom to make a choice.
After you pick up the receiver and said “hello,” there is a slight pause before the caller comes on the line or before the robo-call computer switches on its message. That is a good time to hang up. Or, leave your receiver off the hook for awhile in the hope the computer will decide your number is no longer in service and will delete your number from its memory.
Alas, you have denied yourself the use of your telephone for awhile and you might miss a really important call from a friend or relative. For that reason, well-advised political campaigns no longer use professional phone banks and/or robo-calls. Even so, it is still effective to have friends call their friends to get them to turn out and vote.
The intent of the well-meaning, but largely unconstitutional, McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act of 2002 is further undermined by the advent of the tax-exempt “527” organizations to which anonymous donors can contribute millions of virtually unaccountable dollars in order to promote a particular political candidate or to savage a particular political opponent.
Fortunately, the “527” products are easy to detect. They usually say something like this: “Did you know that Senator Claghorn engaged in prestidigitation in front of minors? You call Senator Claghorn and tell him the honest, hard-working people of your state do not believe in prestidigitation. This message is not endorsed by, coordinated with or paid for by any particular political candidate.”
Of course, the commercial is paid for by some group that opposes Senator Claghorn. The commercial counts on the fact that very few people know that “prestidigitation” is just a fancy word for the kind of slight-of-hand practiced by magicians. To be effective, a negative commercial must be factual. Indeed, Senator Claghorn worked his way through college doing magic acts at children’s parties.
Even worse are the “false flag-527” robo-calls or radio commercials which are completely untrue. For example, the enemies of Senator Claghorn will pay for radio commercials or robo-calls saying: “Here, at Claghorn headquarters, we are sad to report that Senator Claghorn is withdrawing from politics in order to spend more time with his family.”
The idea behind that kind of “false flag” message is to discourage Senator Claghorn’s supporters, to make them give up. Or, the “false flag” could be the work of Claghorn’s supporters striving for the “sympathy vote” by trying to make it look like Claghorn’s opponents are spreading false statements about the Claghorn campaign.
Some political consultants operate on the premise that approximately 17-percent of those who vote -- the swing voters who actually determine who gets elected -- are terminally stupid. Therefore, many negative campaign Ads and “527” commercials are aimed at them.
Unfortunately, post-election surveys show those professional consultants are often correct. Surveys show some will vote for a candidate simply because he or she is white. Or, some will vote for someone just because he or she is black. Nah. Surely, that couldn’t happen anymore in America.
If the ruling-class, mainstream media would do its job, the falsities and exaggerated claims by either the Left or the Right would be exposed on a timely basis. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
Syndicated columnist, and former professional political consultant, William Hamilton, studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton is a former assistant professor of political science and history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
© 2010. William Hamilton.