Flop Sweat on the Campaign Trail

As we head into the election tomorrow, let's review the increasingly obnoxious campaign trends of the last few weeks. We all get trained to not call campaign statements lies. Let's face it, candidates of all parties are prone to stretch a point while campaigning, and to cast themselves in the best light possible, and their opponents in the worst.

This year, though, something is different. Though I always dread the onslaught of campaign commercials in the weeks before the election, I'm now torn between hitting the mute button on the remote and listening in rapt attention to forthcoming calumnies. True desperation has set in on the campaign trail, resulting in fanciful spin, interesting interpretations, and flat-out lies. Candidates are acting like standup comics suffering from flop sweat. They're saying anything they can think of that might stick to voters. There are not enough fact-checkers in the world to keep up with this.

Of course, many of the biggest whoppers are coming from someone who is not even a candidate, but is acting like one. The president has cast this election as a popular vote on his performance, and many now see it as that. He has gone across the country holding campaign rallies and throwing red meat to his base, particularly employing racist dog whistles and fear tactics to drum up support. No exaggeration is too big. He claims his "wall" is being built and is funded. Other times he has threatened to shut down the government if he doesn't get the funding. He has sent soldiers to the border to stop the "invasion" of asylum seekers and now wants to throw away long-standing laws and policies on handling applicants for asylum. Of course, lies and exaggerations are no stranger to the Trump presidency, but his rate of untruth has increased markedly in recent weeks, setting a "personal best" a few days ago. He continues to call the press the "enemy of the people" whenever these prevarications are pointed out. In the last 24 hours the major TV networks have stopped running his most recent ad spreading fear from the border due to the dog-whistle racism of the ad. When Fox won't run a Republican ad, you know the party has gone too far. 

This all of course spreads down-ballot. In our governor race Scott Walker continues to fly around the state to campaign. Here in the Chippewa Valley we are beginning to think he must really love us, as he seems to be in Eau Claire at every possible opportunity. He has become so serious about this that he has recently even started inviting normal residents to his rallies. Imagine my surprise when I was invited by phone to attend one of these events (almost always held at a manufacturer, and until recently always closed affairs for the "right" people). 

At these rallies, the Governor tends to attack Tony Evers for plans to raise taxes willy-nilly, bring in socialism, and in general paints the Evers campaign in colors of his own making. Somehow Evers' simple statement that "everything is on the table" for taxation (which you could interpret as meaning that he actually wants to solve the problems by examining all the options) has turned into "gas tax increases of up to $1 per gallon". Worse are the continuing claims that Evers allows teachers in the district who are into pornography at work. In essence, Walker's campaign continues to find Evers guilty of following the law in dealing with this teacher's license. What you will never hear from him is that Evers then worked to change the law and policy so this will not happen again. This same theme of half-truths and outright lies continues in Walker's campaign and down-ballot. Walker is now claiming to be the "education" governor, strong on the environment, and to be a champion of people with pre-existing conditions. His record shows that he has done all he can to splinter our schools, degrade the environment, and to stop coverage of pre-exsiting conditions, at least in the form currently provided by the ACA. Perhaps tomorrow the governor will claim to be a Democrat - it's about the only thing left to be mis-represented.

Let's take a look at the US Senate race between Tammy Baldwin and Leah Vukmir. Vukmir continually pummels Baldwin on the unfortunate deaths of veterans in the VA system from drug overdoses. Most of this is an exaggeration or very odd spins on the truth. This has recently culminated in a completely tasteless press release from Vukmir titled "Pocahantas campaigns with Tomah Tammy".  Vukmir has also referred to Baldwin as Painkiller Tammy - particularly tone-deaf considering Baldwin's mother's history of addiction.

Many more examples could be given as we move further down-ticket. Since politics seems to be in a post-truth period, it's not surprising to see whacky stories of the failings of political opponents. But these ads and statements, intended to bring out a strong voter response may in the long term simply turn off voters, who are certainly not stupid enough to believe everything they are told. The political ads this season make me dive for the mute button on my TV - if they do that for a person who lives for this stuff I cannot imagine how turned-off the average voter may be.

You have certainly noticed that I have called out Republican campaigns.  Certainly, some of the statements from the Democratic campaigns across the state have been guilty of spin, but the Republican campaigns this year have been particularly mean-spirited and made up out of whole cloth. This is not surprising since much of the Republican story this year seems to be based on race-baiting and appealing to the fears of the Republican base. 

 

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Published on

November 5, 2018

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Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

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