SMEAR AND FEAR

We all know that politics is a dirty game. But the sheer viciousness of this campaign, a highly contested presidential race with no incumbent, has brought out untoward brutality on the part of “unofficial” supporters, commentators and candidates alike.

With the mania of Super Tuesday behind us, let us not forget the carnage that has been left along the way.

In South Carolina’s notoriously bare knuckles primary, John McCain was twice targeted by telephone attack messaging, first accused in 2000 of having an illegitimate black child (his daughter Bridget was adopted from an orphanage in Bangladesh) and in 2008 charged by the group “Vietnam Veterans Against McCain” of selling out his fellow prison camp POWs to save himself (McCain was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, and imprisoned vets, including “Hanoi Hilton” detainee Orson Swindle, have repeatedly said that McCain refused early release).

This election season, Insight,/i> magazine reported that Hillary Clinton’s camp had uncovered evidence that Barack Obama attended a fundamentalist Muslim madrassa while living in Indonesia as a child. The story was subsequently proven false by CNN, but not before it was mentioned on FOX News, in the New York Post and by Glenn Beck and CNN itself. Recently “Hardball” host Chris Matthews suggested the only reason Hillary is a candidate is because “her husband messed around.”

Both Obama and Mitt Romney have accused their main rivals – Clinton suggesting Obama praised Ronald Reagan’s policies and McCain drudging up old Romney interviews concerning Iraqi troop withdrawal timetables – of taking quotes out of context and running smear campaigns based on verifiably untrue premises.

Indeed, the most depressing part of smear politics is that their sensationalism spreads virally, and rare is the opportunity for a coordinated, definitive defense. A presidential campaign is a realm of impossible grays and blurs, an apoplectic haze from which the most cunning can often ride ruthlessness to Pennsylvania Avenue, needing only the tacit approval of a fearful electorate to accept accusation as fact, sensationalism as credibility and lies as truth.