Blogcritics.org: The Political Smear: Why Does the Right Use It Better Than the Left?

Bush's Brain : How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential
Wayne Slater
Book from John Wiley & Sons
Release date: 19 December, 2003

I’ve noticed a peculiar difference between rightwing and leftwing political attacks.

Whereas both the left and the right are equally adept at calling each other names (on the Blogcritics site, for example), the strategy of The Big Smear -- the broad wipe of a very personal and dirty accusation -- seems to be almost exclusively rightwing.

Rush Limbaugh and other rightwing commentators are consistent practitioners of The Big Smear. Notice the personal smears dumped all over the head of Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war mother of dead Iraqi soldier Casey Sheehan. Leftwing commentators appear to largely steer clear of The Big Smear, as much as they like to indulge in name-calling. They seem to get enough kicks from calling Bush a chimp, which is hardly a smear, unless you’re a chimp.

Whatever the differences between right and left, the master of The Big Smear, the all-time champion, is Bush’s political brain, Karl Rove.

Rove’s first known use of The Big Smear was when he masterminded George W. Bush’s victory over Ann Richards as governor of Texas. The Big Smear: Richards was a lesbian. And she had a lot of lesbians working for her.

No doubt Rove would’ve used The Big Smear in Bush Senior’s 1992 re-election campaign, but he was fired from that campaign over a leak to Robert Novak (yes, even then he caused trouble by leaking to Novak). Probably Bush Senior’s biggest mistake. He might’ve won if Rove had had an opportunity to use The Big Smear against Bill Clinton.

In the 2000 Republican primary between Bush and McCain, it’s widely believed that Rove masterminded a “push” poll in South Carolina that asked voters: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain as president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” Since McCain was campaigning with his adopted Bangladeshi daughter, an image quickly formed in voters’ minds, and the McCain tide was turned back. An excellent use of The Big Smear.

But the most brilliant use of The Big Smear was yet to come. In the campaign against Kerry, the Swift boaters attacked Kerry’s war-hero status. Their campaign was never linked to Karl Rove, though many claim to see his hand behind it.

During the Bush presidency, we’ve become quite used to Mini-Smears on everyone critical of Bush -- even Republicans who express misgivings. It’s been a great dissent-containment weapon. Who knows what might be said about the boss if people weren’t afraid of being smeared. After 2008, there might be a deluge of gossip.

As a strategy in political life, The Big Smear is not new. There’s a story told that, fearing a loss against an opponent for an office in Texas, the youthful LBJ, a Democrat, asked his campaign manager to put it about that his opponent fucked pigs.

“How can we say that?” asked his outraged campaign manager; “you know he doesn’t fuck pigs.”

“Of course,” drawled LBJ. “But I’d sure as hell like to hear him deny it

Blogcritics.org: The Political Smear: Why Does the Right Use It Better Than the Left?


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