You're An Atheist, Madam! 9 Unforgettable Moments in Political Mudslinging
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Round 1, 1990: The Helms campaign released an infamous commercial known as the “ White Hands” ad, featuring a pair of white hands crumpling a job rejection letter as the narrator says: "You needed that job, and you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority, because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is.” Gantt lost to Helms.
Round 2, 1996: The second time around, the Helms campaign realized that the race card had been pretty much played out. Helms needed a new tactic, and hit upon another vile strategy. The campaign would paint Harvey Gantt as gay. Gantt, who had been married for over two decades and had four children, was constantly referenced as a supporter of gay rights and rumored to support an undefined “radical homosexual agenda.” The fact that Gantt was an architect—an arty-farty profession in the minds of some rednecks – was enough to kindle the flame. I worked on the Gantt campaign, and recall the tale of a rally in which a man was said to have stood up and shouted to the candidate, “Harvey Gantt, I’ve got two words for you: homo sexual!” Enough said. Gantt lost again.
8. John Kerry v. George W. Bush
Two members of the American ruling elite locked horns in the 2004 presidential election, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and incumbent president George W. Bush. To distinguish them, Bush supporters focused on war and terrorism, hoping to capitalize on Bush’s popularity as a wartime president.
Who can forget the merciless "Swift-boating" of Kerry, which generated not only a new low in mudslinging, but a whole new term? The attack sought to cast doubt on Kerry's Vietnam War record by suggesting he did not really earn his battlefield decorations. The charge was led under the banner of Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, an independent group backed by Houston homebuilding tycoon and George W. Bush fundraiser Bobby Jack Perry, along with oil gazillionaire T. Boone Pickens. They effectively sank Kerry’s boat.
9. Elizabeth Dole v. Kay Hagan
The 2008 US Senate race in North Carolina proves that women can be just as vicious as men in hitting below the belt. Or whatever. During the notorious battle between Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole and challenger Kay Hagan, the Dole campaign hit upon a tactic that would surely take down her rival, who had been inching ahead in the polls. Hagan would be denounced as an atheist. An ad called " Godless Americans," cooked up to target Hagan's religion, featured a voice saying, "There is no God!" over a picture of the candidate's face. The voice was not Hagan's but the ad sure wanted you to think it was.
That was a sling too far for Hagan, who launched her own ad reminding voters that she was a Sunday school teacher. In the end, Dole’s repulsive ad backfired, and Hagan's lead in polls doubled. "Godless Kay" beat Dole with a nine-point margin.
Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.