May 08--Politics, in many ways, is the art of the well-crafted lie.
There really is an art to it. Politicians just can't go out and tell lies. OK, well, they can.
But the good ones, the ones that get away with it, bring some skill to the party.
Let's say you would like to create the impression, say, that your opponent once killed a hobo without coming out and saying that your opponent actually killed a hobo because the possibility exists that your opponent may not have killed a hobo. You have to spin a web of non sequiturs that, collectively, result in people believing that your opponent once killed a hobo. You know how this works. My opponent was once in Sheboygan. A hobo was killed once in Sheboygan. My opponent has never denied killing a hobo. And so on.
You have to repeat the phrase "killed a hobo" as many times as possible, dropping it into campaign speeches, everyday conversations and the occasional Tweet. You have to be able to sell the "killed a hobo" story with the kind of fake sincerity that comes naturally to skilled politicians.
It takes commitment and craft to make it not just plausible, but probable, that your opponent once killed a hobo.
It's not as easy as it looks.
Which is why the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race is such a disappointment.
These guys -- I know there are women candidates, I'm using the term generically, OK? -- are terrible at it.
Well, a few of them are.
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, one of the four Democrats running, seems like a nice lady who cares about health insurance for kids. She's running an ad that makes Tom Wolf look like a robber baron, claiming that he essentially raped his family business for filthy lucre. Her ad has a few facts -- yes, Wolf did reduce his ownership stake in the company in 2006, and yes, he did receive payment for the stake he sold. She also says that the company had to lay off workers between 2006 and 2009, a period in which Wolf was not in control of the business. And yes, that is true too.
So she draws the conclusion that Wolf is a bad person, or at least a bad businessperson.
Actually, her ad makes Allyson Schwartz look like a bad person. Or an idiot.
Gee, what happened between 2006 and 2009? Only the near complete collapse of the international economy, led by a bunch of Wall Street thieves whose greed destroyed the housing market. What does Wolf sell? Things people use to build houses.
On its face, it appears to be a well-crafted political ad. It throws out some facts, or fact-like substances, to draw a conclusion that isn't exactly the truth, but not exactly a lie, following a time-tested formula for such things.
It also assumes that voters have the attention spans of meth-addicted squirrels and can't remember anything that happened six years ago.
Similar to that is state Treasurer Rob McCord's ad that attacks Wolf for formerly being friends with former York Mayor Charlie Robertson. This is a classic in the guilt-by-association genre of political ads. Wolf once served as campaign chairman for a guy who was indicted for murder in a notorious race riot, so therefore, at best, he must condone such behavior, and at worse, he is a racist himself. The ad shows a newspaper clipping, highlighting the words "race-riot murder," just in case viewers were too stupid to figure out what the ad was about.
McCord also has an ad that attacks Wolf for allowing his company to sell kitchen cabinets made in Indiana. In the ad, he says, he thought that meant Indiana, Pa., not Indiana, the state. (McCord also probably picks Indiana University of Pennsylvania to make the basketball Final Four every year.) Indiana -- the state -- isn't scary enough to make this ad effective. He needed to add something about China. Or Mexicans.
Or India. Fun fact: McCord, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, once headed up a trade organization that advocated shipping tech jobs overseas, to India.
India, the country. Not to be confused with Indiana, the state, or Indiana, the Pennsylvania town.
Which finally brings us to the one of the most incomprehensible ads of the campaign.
Current Gov. Tom Corbett, who remains as popular as flesh-eating bacteria with the voting public, stuck his nose in the Democratic primary and launched an attack on Wolf himself. I guess he felt left out because all the cool kids were doing it. The ad is also a reminder that Corbett, who has done everything he can to alienate every person in the state since being elected, has the political acumen of a marmoset.
The ad says, "While Wolf served in Harrisburg as the state's top tax collector, our taxes went through the roof. And higher taxes led to 152,000 PA workers losing their jobs and unemployment going up almost 50 percent."
Wolf was revenue secretary, and as such, his principle duty was collecting taxes and handing big lottery winners big checks at press conferences. The revenue secretary has nothing to do with raising or lowering taxes. (Not that it has anything to do with anything, but during the two years Wolf served in former Gov. Ed Rendell's cabinet, state taxes did not go up at all.)
And it wasn't higher taxes that led to people losing their jobs. It was that thing that happened a few years back, remember, the looting of the national economy by the aforementioned Wall Street thieves which led to the near collapse of the world financial system.
The ad ends showing a Jeep -- Wolf drives a Jeep, in case you didn't know -- being overshadowed by one of those huge, jacked-up pickup trucks that screams "overcompensation." I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but I think Corbett might be trying to tell us something and, speaking for the public, keep it to yourself, governor.
There is one ad that does speak the truth. And it's one of Corbett's. In it, he says, "I wasn't sent to Harrisburg to make friends."
Mike Argento's column appears Mondays and Fridays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints. Reach him at [email protected] or 771-2046. Read more Argento columns at www.ydr.com/mike. Or follow him on Twitter at @FnMikeArgento.
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