The ivory soapbox: Democratic Hate Machine

| Staff Columnist

The “Republican Hate Machine” is an idea that has been floated by liberals for more than a decade to describe what are perceived as slimy, Republican tactics. The idea is that a combination of right-wing media (we’re looking at you, Fox) and Republican attack ads unfairly smear Democrats on a personal level and draw voters’ attention away from the issues at hand. In the first half of the 2000s, for example, if you opposed the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, you hated America. More recently, politicians and the media (still looking at you, Fox) have portrayed Obama as a socialist Marxist Muslim non-American citizen. This election cycle, however, has shown a surprising role reversal. No longer are Democrats the aggrieved party, and no longer is it only the right-wing media that is acting controversially.

One need only look at the campaign ads of Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama for confirmation. On the one hand, we see Democrats accusing the former governor of Massachusetts of sending jobs overseas, evading 10 years of taxes and hiding vast sums of wealth in offshore bank accounts. It is also important to remember the attack ad of the president’s in which it was suggested that Romney, through leadership of Bain Capital, had caused the death of an industrial worker’s wife, which caused such a cry of disgust from the general public that the ad was pulled. There have, of course, been legitimate critiques of Romney, or at least as legitimate as a 30-second sound bite can be, but a large part of the Democrats’ anti-Romney platform has been built on personal attacks.

It is a campaign easily contrasted with that of the ex-governor in which the charges of socialism, Marxism, place of birth and religion are entirely absent. Indeed, barring a few notable examples—Michelle Bachmann and other tea partiers accusing the country’s first Muslim congressman (Keith Ellison, R-MN) of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and furthering a conspiracy to infiltrate the government comes to mind—Republican personal attacks have been few and far between. Where Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) claims anonymous Bain insiders have told him that Romney hasn’t paid taxes in 10 years, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) attacks Obama for not doing enough to deal with the impending fiscal cliff. And it is important to remember that it was Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-OH) as his running mate that switched the political debate from the former’s tax returns to spending cuts and dealing with the debt crisis, a far more important political issue.

Even the traditionally coocoo-bananas “news” outlet, Fox, has been, surprisingly, taking a more fair and balanced approach to the election. Gone are many of the insane allegations it was fond of making, and while many of its personalities, such as Bill O’Reilly, continue to be offensive and asinine, the news side of things has stayed much more to the center. In one recent and surprising display of non-partisanship, the network, during coverage of a speech in which Romney addressed John Kerry’s (D-MA) allegations that he knew nothing of foreign policy, cut coverage before the speech concluded, though it gave full coverage to Clinton’s hugely overtime DNC speech. Ratings are, of course, a huge factor, and Fox News is still far from reliable, but the incident is telling nevertheless. By contrast, MSNBC has been coming under fire for years for its leftist leanings, with one NY Times article entitled “How MSNBC Became Fox’s Liberal Evil Twin.” And during the RNC, its pundits, not its anchors, covered the event. One highlight involved a panel of three shouting down Governor Scott Walker as he attempted to explain his reaction to Paul Ryan’s speech.

Many of my liberal-leaning friends justify the Democrats’ switch to using personal attacks on the grounds that Republicans have been doing it for years, and that it’s part of the political process. It seems to me, though, that this is the wrong attitude to take. We should want politicians who focus on issues, not on personal shortcomings, and if the Republican Hate Machine is capable of reform, it is my hope as a registered Democrat that the my party will abandon its newfound love of personal mud-slinging.

Note: In the previous version of this article printed on September 13th, 2012, it was incorrectly stated that Rush Limbaugh is employed by Fox News.  Student Life apologizes for the error.