Thou Shalt Not Run Smear Campaigns

So the Republican Party is reeling, trying to find its voice and a clear path forward in the aftermath of a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad defeat. While initially we hear that the party will be led by fresh faces, such as Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, and that forerunners for 2012 will also include Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, this brief noise has been covered over with the deafening sounds of ligaments snapping from too much finger-pointing. These days, if you want to know who is old-guard in the Republican party, you merely need to see who has his index finger splinted and bandaged.

You see, McCain’s defeat couldn’t have possibly been due to various factors like decades of alienating the Republican base, or a wildly inconsistent campaign, or a lack of any message other than “Vote for me because Obama is bad”, or endless attack ads that, while accurate, said nothing of how McCain would fix the problems facing our nation. It couldn’t possibly be due to a minimum of eight years of Republicans in general purging themselves of their core values, distinguishing themselves from the Democrats only in terms of which promises they made with no intention of keeping.

No, it had to be Sarah Palin. It is so blindingly obvious now that it is a wonder no one before noticed how she was dragging the whole campaign down! It was just hard to see behind the massive crowds she drew, the complete re-energizing of the base (who decided prior to her nomination that if they decided to vote in the general election, it would be after a few tots of the double-distilled to numb the conscience), and the fact that two-thirds of those polled exiting the voting booth thought otherwise.

But let’s face the facts. She was nothing but a backwards hick that barely knew middle-school geography, who answered the door in a bath towel and held whole meetings in that informal attire. She was completely unprepared, uncooperative, and definitely not what the party needed. We didn’t know this before, unfortunately, but that was because we didn’t have an anonymous tip to clue us in during the months of campaigning.

Oh, wait. You mean, those were lies? They’ve all been debunked? This is merely an attempt by the old-guard to save face by casting blame away from themselves? Who’d have thought!

I have a message for the Republican Party. If they’re searching for a new voice and a clear path forward, they might start with returning to some basic lessons. And when I mean basic, I mean as simple as it gets, so simple that these lessons have been around for literally thousands of years. Now, there’s roughly ten of these lessons (though how to divide them up depend on little trivialities like whether your neighbor’s wife is counted in among your neighbor’s goods), but there’s one in specific that applies perfectly here.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

I know the terminology seems a little archaic, and a literalist might complain that, since the election was a landslide, the courts aren’t involved here. So I’ll try to clarify a little. Here’s what this commandment really means.

Don’t lie. Don’t tell half-truths. Don’t mislead. Don’t break your word. Most certainly don’t make up mean and derogatory stories about someone to discredit them. This isn’t simply suggesting that you don’t commit perjury after you’ve solemnly sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This actually means, as painful as it sounds, that honesty is demanded at all times, even when no one else is listening.

There’s a world of disinformation out there. There are billions upon billions of websites, and a Google search will pull up any type of doggerel you care to search for. Opinions and rumors abound. Everyone and his uncle has a blog, and there’s nothing preventing them from filling those blogs with the most hateful, spiteful lies they can think up. The media hardly seems like a trustworthy outlet anymore, providing at best a fuzzy, distorted picture of what’s really going on. But the talking heads are more out for sensationalism and throwing their backing behind a candidate than reporting fairly and honestly. And can politicians be trusted? Some can, but it seems like the honest ones are increasingly harder to find.

We are starving for some truth. We are pleading for honesty. We want assurance that when we vote for a candidate, he’ll actually work to fulfill those promises he made. The Republican Party as a whole broke trust with the public by endorsing massive spending, permitting enormous expansion of government, and only paying lip service to the values that the core of the party hold dear. And now, in the aftermath of a second consecutive mind-numbing defeat, the Republicans have betrayed themselves as so eager to grasp at power that truth is merely a hindrance.

If the Republican Party wants to rebuild power and take a majority again, the first thing it must do is rebuild trust with the public. I don’t particularly care what the party wants to put out as its message, but whatever it is, they need to be direct, forthright, and honest. Moreover, they have to stick to their guns regardless of what is politically expedient at the time. I know it seems like a winning policy to downplay your flaws and exaggerate your accomplishments while doing the opposite to your opponent, but is that really what this nation needs? Maybe, just maybe, we would like an ad or a debate that doesn’t send us scurrying to factcheck.org in order to discover where a candidate really stands. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t need the candidate that lies the least, but the one that no only doesn’t lie, but doesn’t mislead.

I, for one, would practically prefer a candidate that stood in direct opposition to all my values, and yet was honest, than a dishonest one that claims to support my values. At least with the first I know where I stand and can act accordingly. It is rather disconcerting to think I’m on firm ground only to have the carpet yanked out under me.

So, enough already. No more smears. While smears might damage the opponent, it certainly makes the mudslinging candidate look like an idiot. It certainly reveals him as untrustworthy, someone who is more interested in gaining power than doing what is right. No more half-truths, for that makes a candidate seem shift. No more broken promises. No more evasions. Become a party whose word we can trust. Become a party that tells us the way it is. Become a party that owns up to mistakes, even if it means the end of a political career.

Above all, remember this: it doesn’t matter what your message is if no one trusts you.

The Republican Party has lied its way into this mess. Without honesty and integrity, without respect for truth and the willingness to follow that ancient commandment against bearing false witness, the Republican Party will never rebuild.

One Response to Thou Shalt Not Run Smear Campaigns

  • cminor says:

    Even if you (I don’t, BTW) assume the smears are true, who ultimately looks worst for their airing?

    The candidate for whom the clothes were bought or the campaign manager who provided a blank check and no parameters for the purchase?

    The candidate who made embarassing civics and geography mistakes or the nomination committee vettors who failed to identify her weaknesses before her selection?

    The candidate who may have acted inappropriately in the company of fellow party members or the campaign staffers who sought to minimize their own failures by airing her pecadilloes to the world?

    Judith Martin used to say, “Miss Manners would be too polite to notice.”
    The finger-pointers only proved their own lack of class, not Sarah Palin’s.

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