Opinion

Dirty Campaign Tricks

There is a term that we have all undoubtedly heard of, “All is fair in love and war.” The meaning is seemingly obvious. When it comes to conquests of power or emotion there are no rules, and everything goes. Yet that is not really true, is it? After all, when it comes to trying to woo your love, stalking would be considered off limits. We could also use the antics of Astronaut Lisa Nowak. She drove across the country in a diaper to confront the woman she believed stole her boyfriend. She was arrested and ultimately received an Other than Honorable discharge from the Navy as well.

So, we can all agree that all is clearly not fair in love, but what about war? That one is a little bit muddier. When it comes to life and death, there is very little that most people would not be willing to do in order to survive. Additionally, it is typically the victor that gets to write the history of the conflict, thus having the ability to reconstruct events to put themselves in the more virtuous light. Those of us who have served in the modern United States military are very well aware of our modern rules, of which there are many. We have those which are contained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and other regulations. Then we have our infamous Rules of Engagement which further establish limitations for our conduct in specific regions. The Department of Defense even created a roughly twelve-hundred-page monster called the Law of War Manual to help clarify how we conduct warfare. It would appear that at least in our modern times…all is not fair in love and war.

However, I believe that we could rephrase the statement to be, “All is fair in politics,” and most people would shake their heads in sad agreement. This is not to give credence to the ethics of such an idea; instead, it is only to state the fact that in our world today there is absolutely nothing that is off limits when it comes to power in government.

A terrific example of this can be seen in the senate race in my state of Indiana. Up to the night of the election there was no leader. In the military we would call this sort of conflict being in the knife fight. The margin of error was simply non-existent. The incumbent, Democrat Joe Donnelly versus Republican Mike Braun were trailed distantly by Libertarian opponent Lucy Brenton. As Election Day neared, the limited margin continued to narrow. Needless to say, the tension was up in both camps (not really sure about the libertarian since I highly doubt she ever thought she was a viable contender).

It is at this point where the limited rules of civility were thrown completely out the window. For me personally, I hate all political advertisements that mention the opponent. The simple fact is that they are all playing to a very uninformed voter block and completely presented out of context. My favorite is when the ads speak about voting records: “Candidate XX voted against the children. They want your child to die. Why else would they not have voted for XX like Candidate YY? YY loves your children and will take them into their arms and love them with an appropriate amount of affection.” What they don’t say is that Candidate XX voted against the measure because it also included funding for a cause that they are specifically opposed to, or maybe it defunded an equally important project. Unfortunately, most people do not spend any time educating themselves beyond the commercials. This is why they are so prolific and effective.

Even so, these ads are typically honest in that they at least represent the candidate that they are supporting. In other words, if I wanted to campaign for Braun I might say, “Donnelly wants the government to take away your constitutional rights which is why he didn’t support Justice Kavanaugh. This is why you need to vote for Braun or else you may find yourself living in communist Russia!” While it might be dishonest, at least you know who I am supporting politically.

In the last days of the Indiana race for senate, the Democrats found a very unique way to lash out at their Republican opponent. In this case it was all about psychological warfare. Instead of making the race about Democrat versus Republican, they made it about conservativism versus more conservativism.

For those that don’t know, Libertarians tend to be the conservatives’ more conservative parents. They believe in a very constructionist view of the constitution, and in my opinion are much more freedom-loving. They also embrace the counterpoint to freedom: responsibility. I have written about this many times. You cannot live in a free country if you hide from responsibility. This creates an optics problem. If you accept that responsibility is the role of the individual and not the government, then you need to let people deal with the consequences of their actions and this often-times involves people suffering, albeit by their own actions. It is this optic that caused the Republican Party to move into the world of government overreach.

This movement by the Republicans to the left made a hole in the political spectrum that allowed the emergence of the Libertarian Party, which was founded in 1971. This also split the party. Here is where the Democratic Party saw their shot and took it. In the last week of the election, the Indiana Democratic Party put out a flyer comparing Braun and Brenton. In this flyer they highlighted how much more conservative the Libertarian candidate was. For example, “Braun voted to raise your taxes 159 times,” while “Lucy Brenton has always been a solidly anti-tax Libertarian leader.” My favorite, however, was “Lucy would cut red tape on small businesses, helping them create jobs in Indiana,” compared to “Braun was registered as a Democrat for 20 years.” Why do I love that last comparison so much? I am certain that for the liberal writing that, it must have hurt them immensely to actually say cutting red tape helps businesses.

The obvious goal of this was to take votes away from Braun by pushing the more conservative faction towards Brenton. Yet the Democrat Donnelly was not mentioned. The Democratic Party also made sure to keep their involvement to the legal minimum. They are only mentioned on the small-type return address and then on the bottom of page one, designed to fade into the background of the page, “Paid for by the Indiana Democratic Party.”

This sort of political advertisement feels very wrong to me, especially considering that this was not some political action campaign, but the actual party itself. When a party starts down the road of this sort of underhanded politics then it no longer has any virtue remaining. While I understand that there is the desire to win, this is not about life and death. There will be another election for this seat in six years. But there are the constant elections for representatives, both at the federal and state level, plus governorships and all the rest.

I find it a very sad state of affairs when a party can pull this sort of trick and no one seems to find it offensive. These parties represent the people, supposedly. If they are willing to win through such nefarious means, then how should we assume that they will legislate? Shouldn’t the liberals be outraged by this as well? Are not the liberals the supposed standard bearers for truth and honesty? Wait, I forgot, it is only for their version of truth and honesty. I am certain that the next time they are in charge, we will see the history rewritten; a response from all despots.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Matthew Wadler

Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran. Matt served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring. His service includes time as Military Police, Field Artillery, Adjutant General, and Recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. His formal education includes a master’s degree in HR Management. He is a strong supporter of the constitution and advocate for the military and veteran communities. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewWadler.

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