Sultans of smear —
Republicans have slandering foes down to a science

Why has the Republican Party proved to be so good at smearing the reputations of its opponents? How can the GOP get away with slandering war heroes it doesn't like, such as John Kerry, Max Cleland and even one of its own, John McCain? The GOP is not the only practitioner of the Big Smear by any means, but it is the undisputed master.

Not all Republicans do it. Their party apparatus, however, has made it a defining practice to create messages that move adroitly between telling the Big Lie and committing defamation of character.

I'm sure I'll be called a biased and whiny liberal for saying this. But the Republican Party and its shills in the conservative media establishment will say just about anything about anybody.

So what's their trick? The GOP has mastered disguising fallacies of logic and orchestrating grandiose political distractions.

They turn opponents' excellence against them. They have a genius for hypocrisy. They have mastered the technique of creating lifelike straw men and then destroying them. They project exaggerations of their own worst traits onto their "enemies" and are peerless in using other ad hominem attacks on an opponent's character. They have an unerring nose for the irrelevant and for the old ploy of bait and switch.

Irrelevance works like a charm, often confusing unproved anecdotal evidence with proof-positive of a general truth, such as the legendary Cadillac-driving welfare mother who was used to symbolize all people on public assistance.

Irrelevance can also take the form of a red herring - dropping in topics that have nothing to do with the argument at hand, such as implying that your support of food-stamp programs must mean you're in favor of totalitarianism. The old bait and switch, of course, is seen in gulling people to agree to go to war for reasons that are false, then gulling them again to support the war for reasons that are disingenuous.

Using a person's excellence against him or her is a particularly vicious kind of fraud and ad hominem attack, such as casting doubt on irrefutable military heroism or challenging a person's truthfulness by inventing absurd claims the person never made.

Hypocrisy always comes sugar-coated, such as a reactionary, partisan media outfit claiming to be objective, or proudly touting your environmental record while systematically dismantling environmental regulations, or proclaiming the liberation of a country that you're occupying.

The best tactic of all, however, is creating straw men. These are misrepresentations of your opponent's views set up simply so you can knock them down, such as equating taxes with a form of theft, while ignoring the reality of the indispensable tax-supported services upon which all businesses depend, such as roads, airports, water and police.

If you ever feel the urge to retaliate with similar tactics, just ask yourself if you really want to be like the people who will do any lowdown thing they can to win.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
August 28, 2004