Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Schoolyard Taunts

General Petreaeus or General Betray Us? screams the headline for the advertisement that recently appeared in the New York Times. While I believe that David Petreaeus is capable of taking care of himself, this advertisement and the ensuing conversation is highly disturbing. Some wish to minimize this as nothing more than a schoolyard taunt, albeit a rather expensive one given the cost of a full-page ad.

It seems to me that "schoolyard taunts" are usually confined to the schoolyard, are voiced, not written, by small children, and directed at other children therein, and not directed at a serving military officer doing his mandated duty, not printed in gargantuan type in a $61,000 full-page ad in the front section of the most influential newspaper in the country. I cannot recall one instance of a political advertisement solely directed at a single serving member of our military in my lifetime. The ad says far more about the organization which paid for it than it does the individual it defames and attempts to intimidate.

That the newspaper, which regularly exercises editorial judgment about advertising content saw fit to print it says much about its falling standards in its desperate search for revenue.

That the leaders of one of our nation's political parties have largely remained silent about this affront to common decency says much about them, and the apparent ease with which they are successfully intimidated.

That the leaders of the other political party would rather talk on and on about this than the larger issues of the day says much about them.

That those who have spent years decrying the supposed over-the-line political ad about professional politician Max Cleland's actual voting record find nothing wrong with a political ad aimed directly at one non-political still-serving member of the nation's armed forces speaks volumes about them.

Now that they have all agreed that this is nothing more than a schoolyard taunt, they should not be surprised or upset when 2008 general election ads start appearing in contested districts and states everywhere asking, "Will Hillary Clinton betray us?" "Al Franken: Traitor or Political Hack?" "Is Charlie Brown Really a Traitor?" After all, it is only a schoolyard taunt. No one will be saying they are one. They'll probably even admit they aren't really one, which is more than can be said for this ad, but the code words (like those contained in this ad) and the encouragement of slander (like implied in this ad) and the attempt to stifle dissent (like in this ad) will be the same.

The biggest difference, though, is that those ads (like the Cleland ad) will be directed at active partisan politicians participating in the partisan political process of election, not an individual who has spent a lifetime attempting to carry out the stated goals and objectives of the duly elected government while serving their nation in a non-political capacity.

(Adapted from a comment originally appearing at Althouse)


peter hoh said...

Yeah, it was over the top. Wrong. And stupid, politically.

But hey, it's not like they claimed he had an illegitimate black daughter. That attack was only worse because it worked, and helped put is in the predicament in which we find ourselves.

Internet Ronin said...

While I personally agree with your first paragraph Peter, according to, the ad generated far more in unexpected donations than the advertisement cost, so it may not have been so stupid for them after all.

As for the second, the claim about McCain did not appear in a full-page ad in the New York Times in 2000, and, if it had, it would have been directed at a professional politician running for office, not a professional non-partisan career bureaucrat who, after all, was (and is) only doing his mandated job. In the past, the New York Times has declined to run political advertising that it considered "over the top." It certainly would have refused to run one about the subject you mentioned. I am saddened that they saw no harm in running this advertisement. Until now, both parties have drawn the line at singling out (much less engaging in the character assassination of) civil servants doing their state-mandated job. Unfortunately, the odds are that we will see more of this in the future, and the consequences of such behavior will not be to the good.

BTW, I disagree that that one act stopped McCain from carrying the day to the nomination. He might have ended up with more delegates than he did, but John McCain had little chance of being the GOP nominee in 2000, given the widespread support of GW Bush by party leaders, most importantly his fellow governors, who exercised far more control over the selection of delegates through their control of state parties. Turnout in primary elections is notoriously small, and the faithful that do usually end up following the suggestions of their local leaders.