Rich Lowry on how former Senator Max Cleland has become “the new Flordia,” in other words, the poster child for supposed Republican election-stealing through low-blow tactics. It might be more accurate to call Cleland the new Michael Dukakis. For, just as in Democratic mythology Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential race because the Republicans ran a “racist” ad featuring Willie Horton (the murderer and rapist whom Dukakis released from prison on a weekend pass), Cleland is said to have lost his 2002 Senate race because the Republicans “questioned the patriotism” of this triple amputee veteran.
In reality, the Republicans did no such thing. As Lowry explains, “The case for foul play rests on a tough anti-Cleland ad that Chambliss [his opponent]broadcast featuring Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The ad didn’t morph Cleland into either of these figures or say that he supported them. It noted at its beginning that the United States faced threats to its security as the screen was briefly divided into four squares, with bin Laden and Saddam in two of them and the other two filled with images of the American military. It went on to explain that Cleland had voted 11 times against a homeland-security bill that would have given President Bush the freedom from union strictures that he wanted in order to set up the new department.”
In other words, the ad criticized Cleland for voting against a bill that his opponent (and most Georgians, as it turned out) believed would help protect us from terrorists like bin Laden. As Lowry asks, “if you can’t criticize the Senate votes of a senator in a Senate race, what can you criticize?” Nor is there anything improper, when criticizing a vote on how respond to terrorism, about showing terrorists themselves. Though Democrats often wish it were not so, there is a real world out there, inhabited by terrorists and rapists, and the votes of Senators or the actions of Governors can actually affect the extent to which these dangerous folks get their way. Ads such as the ones that offended Cleland and Dukakis legitimately remind voters of this reality. Indeed, the Democrats understand this well enough — their ads about unemployment or lack of health care coverage are routinely populated by unemployed or sick people.
Lowry notes that Cleland has become Kerry’s frequent traveling companiion on the campaign trail. So, when Kerry says to President Bush, “bring it on,” he really means, “don’t bring it on, or else Max will whine on my behalf.”
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