Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Conduct a Smear

With less than a week before our midterm elections, you’ve probably had your fill of negative campaign ads describing the most vile attributes of a particular candidate.

If you like the candidate, it irritates you. If you dislike the candidate, it still seems smarmy.

Have you ever stopped to analyze how it’s done?

There is a distinct pattern: Simply take a fact about a candidate and then “drill down” to a level of negativity. Here are some examples of a smear of “Candidate X”:

Candidate Fact: “I am a Catholic.”
Characterization: “Candidate X ignores pedophilia in an institution he supports!”

Candidate Fact: “I served in the military.”
Characterization: “Candidate X stood by while women and children became collateral damage!”

Candidate Fact: “I enjoy a turkey dinner.”
Characterization: “Candidate X relishes products from unsafe slaughter houses!”
The idea, of course, is to entice the candidate and his supporters into responding at the level suggested by the smear. (That typically doesn’t work out well for candidate X.)

It’s a fact of life that many activities we enjoy can be characterized with a negative aspect of that activity. It is fertile ground in the world of politics, and is a part of the chess game that makes politics so intriguing.

Unfortunately, “the ugliness” is what keeps most of us from ever wanting to become political candidates.

It is also what is so uplifting in the candidacy of ordinary citizens that we are seeing today.

UPDATE 10/29/2010:
Jonathan Karl at ABC News has some actual examples being used in the last few days of the election campaigns.

UPDATE 10/31/2010:
Sam Foster at Left Coast Rebel has a post that might be titled, "How to Attempt to Conduct a Smear."  It details another open mic incident similar to the one earlier this month from the Jerry Brown campaign in California (Meg Whitman as a "whore").  This time the smear is being plotted by supportive media rather than Democratic Party campaign staff, the issue is sexual predators rather than sexual services, and the location is Alaska instead of California.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Must I be a Citizen to Vote?

A recent story (10/26/2010) from the Arizona Daily Star reports that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Arizona’s requirement that individuals show proof of citizenship when registering to vote.

Can this be true? If you live in Arizona, you do not have to prove you are a U. S. citizen when you register to vote? Are you thinking, “This doesn’t make any sense. It must be true only in Arizona!”

I checked out the voter registration form in my home state of Colorado. Here is a link to a .PDF copy of the form we use.

Note that the Colorado Voter Registration Form requires you to state that you are a citizen, but it does not require you to prove you are a citizen. When you come to vote, you simply bring a copy of a recent electricity bill showing you live where you say you live, and you can vote.

Doesn’t that seem a little awkward? Colorado wants to confirm the jurisdiction in which you reside, but not whether you are a citizen of the country!

And we are not alone. Across the USA, this is one of those “litmus test” issues.

Do you believe in the sanctity of the voting process in America? If so, you are probably a Republican.

Linked by Left Coast Rebel!  Also, Michelle Malkin devotes a column to voter fraud in America.  Maybe we're starting to see some traction on this issue?

UPDATE 11/22/2010:
The Denver Post has an editorial today that addresses this issue.  The money quote is, "That's a debate worth having, but we would have to be convinced that such a requirement wouldn't prove too burdensome."

Can the act of presenting necessary and sufficient documentation to prove you are qualified ever be "too burdensome"?  Where else is this standard applied?  Does our Constitution actually say that proving American citizenship might be too burdensome when registering to vote?

Our regulation-prone culture appears to believe you've got to be licensed for everything except being a citizen.

UPDATE 6/26/2012:
Florida seems to have the same problem as Colorado: Non-citizens are voting.

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Friday, October 22, 2010


Two Republicans were in the news this week for “acting stupidly.”

Sarah Palin was criticized for proclaiming the year 1773 as an important date in the Tea Party movement. Christine O’Donnell was criticized for pointing out there is no “separation of church and state” clause in the United States Constitution.

As it turns out, both women were correct, but our anti-Republican culture jumped at the chance to exploit their perceived inadequacies.

Politico has a pretty good analysis of the attack on Christine O’Donnell. Michelle Malkin reports on who went after Sarah Palin.

The dust-up on Christine O’Donnell is an example of “the standard AP re-write.” This is where an Associated Press reporter releases a story and then updates it later in the news cycle. In the case of reporter Ben Evans, he released his story on Ms. O’Donnell at 12:54PM on October 19, and then posted a rewritten version at 9:27PM later in the same day.

Depending on which version you read, you received a different sense of the debate. It’s a good example of how early stories capture the stronger anti-Republican themes. Reporters typically will temper their bias as events unfold.

The fascinating thing about the criticism of Governor Palin is that it first appeared in the form of text messages on the Twitter accounts of commentators. Many pundits send short text messages – “tweets” - to a Web site to register their impressions of events. It is a remarkable window into the way they interpret their surroundings.

I’m betting that as time goes by, we will see more analysis of the way people in the political arena use Twitter to react to their world. If it is true that first impressions are the most honest, it will be enlightening to watch as they share their true feelings.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Big Issue

CSN at Red Rocks, 6/2/2010, photo by Buzz Person
Graham Nash, of Crosby, Stills & Nash, wrote a song titled “Teach Your Children.” Readers of a certain age will hear the music in their heads, particularly the refrain of the first chorus:

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
The song is from the early 1970s and was written against the backdrop of the “Big Issue” at the time: the war in Viet Nam.

We’ve got an election coming up in two weeks, and there is another big issue being debated. It has to do with the direction America is headed: whether it is toward a government based upon the domination of a single political party or “back to the future” of our Constitution with its checks and balances.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has a vigorous stake in the election, and is featured either positively or negatively in the political debate. You might have seen video of her comments to the National Association of Counties (NACo) on March 9, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Here is the featured sentence:
But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.
The subject is healthcare reform, and she is selling Democratic Party legislation to her listeners. I’ll include the paragraphs before and after the sentence, so that you can see the context:
You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention—it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting.

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy. Furthermore, we believe that health care reform, again I said at the beginning of my remarks, that we sent the three pillars that the President’s economic stabilization and job creation initiatives were education and innovation—innovation begins in the classroom—clean energy and climate, addressing the climate issues in an innovative way to keep us number one and competitive in the world with the new technology, and the third, first among equals I may say, is health care, health insurance reform. Health insurance reform is about jobs. This legislation alone will create 4 million jobs, about 400,000 jobs very soon.
Speaker Pelosi is like one of the Sirens in “The Odyssey”. She is beckoning you to her politics, and has some compelling arguments:

--If you are a legislator, you don’t have to understand the legislation you are endorsing.
--If you are concerned about jobs, she knows where the jobs are.
--If you are concerned about money, she knows where there is easy money.

It’s all going to be “very, very exciting” and the only cost is the price of your allegiance.

I get it.

But I’m still hearing the refrain from “Teach Your Children” and wondering what Speaker Pelosi teaches her own children (or grandchildren). Does she teach them critical thinking or does she teach them allegiance?

There is an election coming up, and it will be interesting to see what America chooses. What’s the “Big Issue” this time?

It has to do with what we teach our children.

UPDATE 10/23/2010:
Linked by Left Coast Rebel!  Thanks, Tim.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This is Instructive

Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, courtesy of

Hugh Hewitt brings our attention to a Stanford graduate being attacked by the student newspaper of his alma mater.

The Stanford Daily chastises alumnus Dr. Victor Davis Hanson (Ph.D. Stanford, 1980) for being, of all things, a raaaaacist! The source of the outrage is this 9/30/2010 post from Dr. Hanson’s blog.

Dr. Hanson addresses some cultural “absurdities” that seem to no longer be noticed. His article specifically references issues of political structure, education, and technology. In the second area, he makes the point that higher education is “politically intolerant” and points out some racial diversity constructs used in selecting students for college admission.

Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Not to the editors of The Stanford Daily. Their 10/7/2010 editorial characterizes Dr. Hanson’s analysis as “absolute trash” and calls on the Hoover Institution to censure him.

This is where the fun begins. Victor Davis Hanson writes a follow-up piece on 10/9/2010 for Pajamas Media and describes the editorial as “a McCarthyite attack.” Glenn Reynolds links to the reaction at The Stanford Review and Smitty from The Other McCain posts a comment on The Stanford Daily Web site.

What’s the take-away?

Be sure to read Dr. Hanson’s 10/9/2010 response. It showcases America’s style of cultural interchange: An individual challenges an issue of policy, and our culture responds with characterizations of intent. Dr. Hanson says, “Here are some anomalies in university recruitment policy,” and The Stanford Daily says, “Let us tell you who and what you are!”

UPDATE 10/14/2010:
Meredith Dake at Big Journalism has a post linking to a similar dust-up on the Rachel Maddow show last week (10/7/2010).  A scientist named Art Robinson is running for Congress in Oregon, and his encounter with Ms. Maddow is similar to Dr. Hanson's encounter with The Stanford Daily.  (What's with our Western Neighbors?  They've got research scientists and entrepreneurs running for political office!)

UPDATE 10/15/2010:
Tim Daniel from LeftCoastRebel comments that the language used by the editors of The Stanford Daily sounds suspiciously like that of "internet trolls."  Is he on to something?

I noted the incendiary adjectives used by liberal pundit David Sirota in this post, but you've got to admit the editors at TSD keep an abundance of troll-like, politically-charged adjectives at their fingertips:

"homogenous denigration"
"vitriolic ignorance"
"toxic assumption"
"mocking reference"
"callous and shrill remarks"
"gross generalities"
"racially charged language"
"despicable words"
"derisive, unfounded cheap shots"
"grossly generalizing remarks"

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Intellectual Discourse

Ron Radosh, an author and political commentator, has a post today (10/6/2010) on cultural hegemony (h/t Instapundit). Mr. Radosh discusses the ideological rigidity of “liberal intellectuals,” making the point that these individuals are unable to accommodate contrary evidence that disrupts their world view. It’s a cultural phenomenon, much like the ancient antipathy for non-Moslems in the Moslem world. The dominant culture establishes what is “right and natural.”

I got a taste of this the other day when I posted a comment on a site run by a gentleman in Vermont. The post was about the contention of author Jon Krakauer that 41 percent of the casualties in the current war in Iraq are attributable to “friendly fire.” Mr. Jack McCullough, the blogger in Vermont, had represented that statistic as being a fact.

Here’s my comment:
Mr. McCullough:

I would be interested in your take on a similar review I did of Mr. Krakauer’s book last year. For a work of non-fiction, I think his “facts” on friendly fire are distorted. See if your review of the Brookings data leads to a similar conclusion.

If you have better data, please let me know and I’ll post it at
Mr. McCullough commented back:
I didn’t jump into the ancient discussion on your blog, but I’d be curious if Krakauer has ever responded to your claims.

I also note that there is really no attempt to refute Krakauer’s central thesis: that Tillman was the victim of fratricide and the Bush administration lied and covered it up as long as it could possibly do so.
Oops—I should have said more.

There is also no question that the Bush administration lied about the Jessica Lynch incident, and that it did everything it could to make political hay of these twin tragedies.
My attempt to have Mr. McCullough evaluate contrary evidence was rebuffed, and in a distinctive pattern:
1. My citation was dismissed as “your claims.”
2. My question was skirted (other than to wonder if Jon Krakauer was interested).
3. My intent was derided through characterization of side issues.
Dismiss, Skirt, and Deride. Does that sound like intellectual discourse or what?

It reminds me of another pattern: The Apology.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network © Fox Searchlight

I’m going out on a limb here, but let me just say it: You need to see the movie “The Social Network.”

This is a film about Mark Zuckerberg, a young man played by Jesse Eisenberg, who creates the Facebook application on the Internet. Facebook allows you to post information about yourself and others, and share it with people of your choosing. The application is both welcoming and open while still being intimate and protected.

The movie, written by Aaron Sorkin and based on the book by Ben Mezrich, tells the story of Mr. Zuckerberg creating his application and posting in on the Internet. It starts with the program being restricted to just the students at Harvard University, and ends with it being available worldwide. In the process, Mr. Zuckerberg finds he has generated an asset worth billions of dollars, hence the name of Mr. Mezrich’s book: “The Accidental Billionaires.”

It’s a fascinating story, and affects each of us in different ways. Film critics see it as a story of intrigue in the digital age. Bloggers look a little more deeply. Some see it as a story of social upheaval. I see it as a celebration of something special.

That “something special” is the transformational achievements that occur when individuals pursue their dreams without compromise. I see people like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, through this lens.

Mr. Gates had a dream of bringing mainframe computing power to individuals everywhere. This was not through terminals connected to mainframes, but through individual devices: “personal computers.” He developed an operating system to do this, and drove a complete industry along the path of his vision for several years. In the 1990s, Mr. Gates knew with certainty what was going to happen to the small computer industry in the next year, and had a pretty good idea of what it would look like three years out. He set a new industry in motion, and his vision and accomplishments were “something special.”

You get a sense of that in “The Social Network” movie. Mr. Zuckerberg has a vision that drives him relentlessly. People try to turn him from that vision no matter where he heads. At one point in the movie, he meets Sean Parker (founder of Napster and played by Justin Timberlake) who seems to understand the direction Mr. Zuckerberg is heading. You can feel Mr. Zuckerberg revel in the validation: “Finally, someone who gets it!”

We know that there must be “something special” going on, because our culture handsomely rewards the individuals associated with Facebook. But there’s something more.

Our culture often diminishes transformational accomplishments. Mr. Gates was scorned by competitors and subjected to antitrust litigation. Even though the world was dramatically changed as a result of his work, not everyone was happy. (For the record, the Internet and this blog are grateful.)

I’m now thinking about another transformational event that occurred over 200 years ago. It didn’t immediately create fantastic wealth and still doesn’t seem to earn much admiration and respect, but it was transformational.

It was the crafting of the United States Constitution and the creation of the American Republic.

The concept is still being tested. There is by no means universal acclamation that this was “something special.” However, I think people would have to agree it was transformational. It put in place a model for governing that elevates individual rights and secures freedom. It is constantly under challenge, and yet remains a beacon for others around the world.

Our Founding Fathers took great risks. They knew they had a vision of human governance that broke with tradition, and they were determined to give it a chance. We now enjoy the benefits of their foresight.

Let’s celebrate those people who have the vision to create “something special.”

UPDATE 10/6/2010:
Scott Johnson at Power Line draws our attention to an article by Michael Barone.  Mr. Barone describes our current political debate as "an argument between the heirs of two fundamental schools of political thought, the Founders and the Progressives."

I think I captured the mindset of the Founders pretty well in this post.

UPDATE 10/8/2010:
If you'd like to see a nice exposition of the Founders argument, take a look at this video by Bill Whittle.

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