The South Carolina primary, coming up this Saturday, is getting dirtier and dirtier, as an article in the NY Times attests today. It is not only the racial stuff we spoke about the other day, but the emails about Romney's Mormon religion and Obama attending a radical Jihadist school in Jakarta. Old news, but some people can't resist. The stories about the John Edwards love child seem to have died down a bit--as he has--but now come television commercials aimed directly at Mike Huckabee's supposedly lenient record on crime while Governor of Arkansas. In the fine old tradition of the Republican Willie Horton attacks on Michael Dukakis in 1988, the spots (from a group calling itself Victims Voice) feature an appeal from a mother whose daughter was raped and killed by a convict Huckabee agreed to release on parole.
Some of us may find this ridiculous--turning a candidate's record around one event in which so many others have a hand is highly simplistic--but make no mistake about it, this is very powerful stuff to many voters, even if they might not admit it. No one talking to a pollster of journalist says, yeah, bring on the dirty tricks, I love 'em. But spots like those produced by Victims Voice burrow in like ticks. It's like the Swift Boat for Truth attacks against Kerry in 2004. Hard to forget them, even if you felt they were scurrilous. These attacks have (and are intended to have) a kind of populist air to them, as if it's just folks talking over the back fence, passing on the real scoop. You see it all over American history, from the first attacks leveled at John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 to newspapers whispering that Abraham Lincoln was a secret "nutmeg dealer" (a seller of aphrodisiacs). This is why current-day candidates like Obama and John McCain, whose crucifixion in South Carolina in 2000 is legendary, are fighting back hard, McCain even posting a "Truth Squad" section on his web site to fight the attacks against him.
Should be interesting. By the way, anyone who wants to hear me discussing dirty tricks history can listen in to the Dennis Praeger Show today on KRLA in Los Angeles at 10 PST, or catch me with Jerry Doyle on his show Friday 1:15 PST on the Talk Radio network.