Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
That take you where you should not go
(Beware of Darkness/All Things Must Pass)
We expect politicians to lie to us or to stretch the context of truth like an elastic band just millimeters from snapping. We are so conditioned by the notion that “politics is politics” that when we crossed over from the sublime to the ridiculous, we barely noticed. In fact, too many haven’t noticed at all. Meanwhile, down on the corner the three-card monte game is flourishing, people like Sean Hannity are the shills and we are all the marks.
“Step right up, step right up and throw your money down. Our magic tonic is better than any snake oil you’ll ever try. Wipes out immigrants, regulations, unnecessary taxes and terrorists all with one swallow. Step right up and pay no attention to those journalists. They are your enemy. Truth is over rated.”
A chief aid of the President of the United States refers to a demonstrably false statement regarding the crowd for his inaugural on Jan. 20, 2017 as “alternative facts”. Despite the real fact that the statement doesn’t even have a nodding acquaintance with the truth of the matter, this phrase somehow takes on an air of legitimacy in some quarters and morphs into a seeming foundation for anything that spews out of the sewers of this White House. The biggest tax cut in history is…not. The United States economy is in the best shape it’s ever been in history… it isn’t. The border wall is being built right now…but not really. Judge Kavanaugh graduated first in his class from Yale…he didn’t. Opioid deaths are down…they are up. The constitution can be altered with the stroke of a pen…it can’t. But “alternative facts” make it so. Charles Ponzi would be very proud. Just keep saying things and they are true just because the president says it. Anything else is fake news.
It is not an “alternative fact” that this president has told 6,420 lies or misrepresentations in roughly 650 days in office at an average of 9.89 per day. Nor is it an “alternative fact” that in the past seven weeks leading up to the election the gas pedal of mendacity has been floored to a land speed record of 1,419 at an average of 30 per day. This engine of lies is fueled by fear, a chemical more powerful than anything found in Formula One.
It was my sincere intention to avoid writing anything on topic during these last two or so weeks before the election. The media is positively enraptured with all of this (and rightly so). I knew that I would likely share any views I had in due time with a reasonable amount of separation and perspective. Anything that I might contribute now would likely only be drowned out and lost in the shuffle anyway. But to paraphrase Michael Corleone in Godfather 3 (in perhaps the only memorable single line in the movie) just when I think I’m out they drag me back in.
The ”they” here would be New Jersey republicans. I don’t live in New Jersey and like most sensible New Yorkers usually pay little attention to politics from across the river. But there is nothing usual about this election cycle. And although I may not live or vote in New Jersey I am unfortunately held captive by the constant flow of republican campaign ads, chock full of fear and not really anything else. Except lies, they are full of those as well. The tone of the ads reflects a dangerous pattern taking place all over the American electorate and it is too important to ignore. To be clear, it should be noted that democrats are not completely innocent on this count, but it appears that at least for the most part their “fear” stoking is of the basic meat and potatoes variety common to political campaigns. “They” whoever “they” are, will cut Medicare and Social Security etc. The republican ads do this and then some.
According to ads for Rep. Tom McArthur R-3rd District his opponent Andy Kim is playing palsy with terrorists. McArthur’s main ad, which now plays practically back to back, is a mélange of images of “radicals” designed to make this former Obama Administration National Security advisor to General David Petraeus in Afghanistan look like a terrorist. You see, Kim once was involved with a left-wing political group and somebody else affiliated with that group posted a list of books by some less than moderate types, one of whom’ killed a police officer. Translation: Mr. Kim has terrorist connections and is seeking to destroy America. And “he is not one of us” which is an actual line in an ad. Did I mention that Mr. Kim is of Asian descent? Or that one of the images is of dead fish and the font used is one commonly referred to as Chop Suey with a message that says, “something is real fishy about Andy Kim”? The Chop Suey font is on the words Real Fishy. Message: Be very afraid!!
Leonard Lance is working from the old playbook. Take words like “progressive” and “liberal” and turn them into expletives. But what ever you do, do not talk about what you have accomplished or plan to accomplish. Just remind us that these terrible liberals are too far left to be trusted with anything and then smile with your wife at the end of the ad like a couple of outstanding members of some quiet New Jersey Stepford community. Tell us, how your opponent Tom Malinowski promotes terrorists because in his post as the Washington Director of Human Rights he advocated for the end of torture, a principle he continued to pursue as Ass’t Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Forget momentarily that this work was praised my members of both sides of the aisle most notably the late John McCain.
The race between Democrat Mikie Sherrill and Jay Webber has not been quite as down and dirty. The two do attack each other’s positions but the scare tactics, although not absent, are of a much smaller scale and not worth doing a deep dive on here. It seems to come down to who can eat more apple pie on thanksgiving while watching football and praising Jesus at the same time.
But the ads for Senatorial candidate and former drug company executive Bob Hugin in his campaign against Sen. Bob Menendez are proof that just when you think you have hit rock bottom all you have to do is get a better shovel. To be clear, Sen. Menendez has plenty of real baggage. His connections to Dr. Salomon Melgen and his possible acceptance of and his real indictment for accepting gifts in return for political favors for the not so good doctor are fair game. Sen. Menendez was indicted for possible corruption and there was a trial. He was not acquitted, but he was not convicted either. The trial ended in a hung jury with a polling of the jury suggesting that the vote count was 10 for acquittal and 2 for conviction. Menendez was censured by the Senate. All of this on their own would make for a very compelling case for Hugin to weaponize in his ads. But Mr. Hugin is spending millions on his negative ads, much of it his own money and it appears he wants to make sure he gets the biggest possible bang for his buck.
His ads make unproven claims that Menendez paid underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic for sex. The tipster in this accusation remained anonymous, passed the information along to a left leaning group who then passed it on to the FBI. The same tipster then refused to meet with the FBI. Some of the women have claimed to have been paid to make such accusations, and two US service members who were at Dr. Melgen’s parties claimed to have never witnessed such behavior at these parties and to having never seen or met Sen. Menendez. In a raid of Dr. Melgen’s office, a notebook containing the names of several women also contained the senator’s name and phone number. Could be something, could be nothing. But it does not prove sex with underage prostitutes. The ads go on to indicate that the underage sex with minors was included in the 68-page indictment, it wasn’t.
But perhaps the best example of this smoke and mirrors political misdirection comes in the form of an ad for Hugin from a PAC calling itself Integrity NJ. It begins by pointing out “ a tradition of strong honorable leadership” by the Democratic Party. It presents images of past democratic leaders over the voice over and then it goes on to recount the most scurrilous of unproven charges against the senator and then, and this is where they reach the lowest rung of their ladder, they say, “This year We got…Bob Menendez” and then, “WE can do better”. I want to make sure everybody caught that. That “WE”. The ad leads the viewer to believe that this is coming from a group of disaffected democrats. However, Integrity NJ is really a super PAC with ties to former Republican NJ Governor Chris Christie. All its fundraising comes from just eight donors. Its chairman is one Phil Cox who was once the Executive Director of the Republican State Committee. He also helped to lead Christie’s presidential campaign. This PAC has raised approximately $ 2 million from just these eight individuals to go along with the $15.5 million Hugin is contributing to his own campaign. The single biggest contributor to Integrity NJ is a person by the name of William P. Scully, a Florida resident who has contributed fully half of the PAC’s bankroll ($ 1 million) and who perhaps not so coincidentally is a major shareholder in Celgene-the pharmaceutical company Hugin oversaw before he began his pursuit of the Senate. $100,000 was contributed by Nicholas F. Brady who served briefly as the republican senator from New Jersey after being appointed by the former republican Gov. Tom Kean to replace the former democratic senator Harrison Williams upon his conviction for his part in the Abscam corruption case. Integrity, indeed.
There is a great line in the Lawrence and Lee play Inherit the Wind that I think is instructive in this often-duplicitous electoral environment. The lawyer for the defense chats with his client as they await the verdict during his trial for teaching evolution in the early part of the last century. The lawyer recalls his obsession with a rocking horse in the big store window of his town when he was six years old. He would run over to the store every day just to look at it in the window and imagine what glorious adventures he would have with Golden Dancer who “ had a bright red mane and blue eyes and she was gold all over with purple spots. And when the sun hit her stirrups, she was a dazzling sight to see” He says that he gave up his dream because the price tag of the wooden equine was too much for his family. But upon waking one morning he found the object of his affections at the foot of his bed. His father worked a lot of extra time and his mother “skimped on the groceries” He goes on to describe jumping on top of it and rocking joyously when it suddenly broke, “ it split in two, the wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and ceiling wax, all shine, no substance”.
He sagely advises his client that when something or someone seems too good to be true, “Look behind the paint. And if it’s a lie, show it up for what it really is.” And that includes alternative facts. In government, we get what we deserve. I happen to think we all deserve better. Please…vote. And when you do…look behind the paint. Thanks for reading.