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Fear & Loathing On The Campaign Trail: Make Them Deny It

March 15, 2012

…(I)n both the Ohio and Nebraska primaries, back to back, McGovern was confronted for the first time with the politics of the rabbit-punch and the groin shot, and in both states he found himself dangerously vulnerable to this kind of thing.  Dirty politics confused him.  He was not ready for it….

This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics.  Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas.  The race was close and Johnson was getting worried.  Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.

“Christ, we can’t get a way calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested.  “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”

“I know,” Johnson replied.  “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

I read that excerpt from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72 last night.  Then I woke up this morning to this story about Republican opposition to renewing the Violence Against Women Act.  The law is up for renewal and Senate Democrats are backing a bill that, among other things, would:

  • expand efforts to reach women in rural areas;
  • increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence;
  • extend the definition of domestic violence to include stalking;
  • include same-sex couples in domestic violence programs; and,
  • allow temporary visas for battered illegal immigrants.

As Jonathan Weisman reports,

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

“I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee. “You think that’s possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?”

I’m not saying the answer to Sen. Sessions’ question is “yes”.  But I do think ol’ Lyndon is having himself a chuckle or two along with his scotch and soda right about now.  As Ed Kilgore concludes over at the Political Animal, “So in figuring out a way to oppose this legislation without making themselves look even worse than they do now, Republicans are indeed ‘trapped.’ But it’s a trap of their own making. “

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From → Books, History, Politics

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