Terry McAuliffe’s recent scratch-off mailer has raised, yet again, the issue of “negative attacks.”
The McAuliffe campaign and its supporters assert that as long as “attacks” are “factual,” they are somehow not negative attacks at all. I’m not quite sure I get this logic, so I assume it represents some higher level of reasoning of which I am not capable.
Fortunately, debunking this pathetic mailer does not require superior analytical abilities. The fact is that the McAuliffe mailer might be “factual” in the sense that it doesn’t print anything untrue – I won’t argue that point -- but they are not truthful in any commonly understood and accepted sense of the term.
And therein lies the problem. “Factual” is not the same thing as “truthful.”
For example, with respect to payday lending, the McAuliffe mailer lists contributions to Creigh, Moran and McDonnell from “lending and consumer credit companies since 1996.” As for McAuliffe, well, it doesn’t list any, but states, “Pledged not to take contributions from payday lending companies.”
See that rhetorical slight of hand at work? Given its clumsiness, it’s pretty apparent.
The criteria used for counting the universe of contributions to his opponents – lending and consumer companies – is much broader than the contributing universe McAuliffe applies to himself – he promises only not to take money from payday lending companies.
Well, why the difference? Simple. If McAuliffe actually applied the same criteria to himself as he did to his opponents, he would have to admit to taking $25K from a single consumer lender – EduCap, that has been accused of predatory practices, not to mention another $25K from the husband of EduCap’s founder and CEO.
That’s right, in the first quarter of 2009 alone, McAuliffe has taken $50K from a company that some have said is a predatory lender victimizing college students!
So, on an annualized basis, Creigh has accepted $779 per year from consumer lending companies, while McAuliffe has taken $200,000 per year.
Hmmm. $779 versus $100,000? Who owes whom, indeed?
As McAuliffe senior advisor Mo Elleithee might say, “Not negative. Just a fact.”
More seriously, if you believe this mailer is designed to honestly inform voters about the respective candidates records on accepting donations from the consumer lending industry, so they can compare the candidates, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. These “facts” are cherry picked and these definitions are wordsmithed and parsed, to reach a particular result that says, “My opponents have been bought and paid for by predatory lenders. I, Terrence McAuliffe, have not. This is all factual.”
This is simply dishonest, and it is crap like this, IMHO, that turns people off of politics. It is mail pieces like this that cause people to conclude, “All politicians are liars,” because it is just too much time and work for most people to separate the truth from the bull. Heck, it took me a good amount of time to wade through this stuff. The casually interested voter doesn’t have a chance at reading this and divining the truth of the matter, so they just give up, not knowing what to believe.
Similarly, take McAuliffe’s assertion that he has “Pledged not to take contributions from Dominion Power Corporation or its PAC.” Well, okay, but again, this is too cute by half. For one thing, McAuliffe has received roughly $12K in contributions from Dominion executives.
Also, it’s not as if McAuliffe has always eschewed Dominion; as head of the DNC, he accepted some $60K in donations from Dominion for the DNC Building fund. “Not negative. Just a fact.”
I have heard McAuliffe defend the distinction he draws between contributions from Dominion and its PAC, and contributions he has received from Dominion executives. I, personally, don’t buy it, but if Terrence McAuliffe believes it, why not come clean with voters in his mailer so voters can have the full record set before them when doing their comparisons? That was a rhetorical question.
Look, I don’t mind negative campaigning, but I like it better when it is upfront. I don’t like distortions that amount to negative attacks that are cleverly hidden behind a veneer of “factual accuracy” that lets campaigns say, “Nothing negative. Just facts,” because it is untrue.
But the main reason I hate this garbage is that it offends me, personally, and then I feel compelled to spend time researching and writing to debunk crap like this that should never have been created in the first place, and it annoys me.
I hope, therefore, that this pathetic mailer was a single, uncharacteristic one-off out of the McAuliffe campaign, and doesn’t signal a lurch in tactics toward using distortions and half-truths to attack Creigh, if only so the next two weeks of my life don’t suck. I fear, however, that McAuliffe’s polling is showing a more uncertain race than they would like, and so this nonsense will continue.
Still, I make the following plea to the McAuliffe campaign: If you must put out dreck like this, at least direct it at Brian Moran, so I don’t feel a need to respond. Thank you.