One of the most shameful moments in recent South Carolina history was the anonymous smear campaign against John McCain conducted via phone "push polls" in 2000. It was particularly malicious, low and vile, spreading racist lies about an innocent child. Read this account to remind you:
In South Carolina, Bush Republicans were facing an opponent who was
popular for his straight talk and Vietnam war record. They knew that if
McCain won in South Carolina, he would likely win the nomination. With
few substantive differences between Bush and McCain, the campaign was
bound to turn personal. The situation was ripe for a smear.
didn’t take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about
the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named
Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa’s orphanage in
Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and
the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.
opponents used "push polling" to suggest that McCain’s Bangladeshi born
daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a
voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which
candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the "pollster"
determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements
designed to create doubt about the senator.
Thus, the "pollsters" asked McCain supporters if they would be more or
less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an
illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious
South, that’s not a minor charge. We had no idea who made the phone
calls, who paid for them, or how many calls were made. Effective and
anonymous: the perfect smear campaign.
That account was written in 2004 as a warning not to let it happen again. This morning, right after I got up to do a phone interview with C-SPAN about our endorsement of Sen. McCain, I saw this overnight e-mail from the McCain campaign:
volunteers making telephone calls for the McCain campaign report that
some voters recently received negative information about Senator
McCain. While we do not yet have conclusive proof, we are concerned
that this may be the beginning of a smear campaign.
you receive any malicious messages, letters, phone calls, e-mails,
fliers or any other form of "negative" information about John McCain,
please contact our McCain Truth Hotline directly at 803.477.6987 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
as quickly as possible. (Note: If the attack is made over the
telephone, either by a caller or by a recorded message, please save the
recording and take note of the CALLER ID phone number for use as evidence of these unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics.)
you for helping protect Senator McCain from false attacks during these
last days leading up to our January 19 Republican Primary.
I certainly hope that this is a case of the McCain folks overreacting out of their perfectly understandable sensitivity — which is base in bitter experience. What happened in 2000 wasn’t just a painful experience for one man and his family — it’s widely believed to have given the S.C. primary to Bush (which, if it did, is in itself a dark stain on the honor of S.C. voters). If that analysis is correct, those vicious whispers had a profound effect on U.S. history.
If it’s starting to happen again, decent people all over our state should rise up to confront the lies, and repudiate the liars in the strongest terms. But is it starting to happen again? Have you received calls that fit this description.