Politics Ain’t Beanbag

Matthew Yglesias says the Democrats need to quit whining abou Republican attack ads like the one used against Max Cleland:

The infamous anti-Cleland ad was legitimately scummy, presenting a seriously distorted and underhanded view of the issues at hand. That said, what does Cleland’s triple-amputee status have to do with it? Saxby Chambliss wasn’t attacking Cleland’s personal bravery, he was attacking Cleland’s policies. Democrats over and over again seem to think that biographical qualities either are or out to somehow immunize nominees from political attacks based on national security issues and they keep getting burned. They need to get over it — the world doesn’t work that way and the world shouldn’t work that way. This is on a par with whining that Republicans are politicizing national security. Well, guess what, national security is a political issue. The Democratic Party is full of politicians. They need to learn to do politics — the whining just looks weak and pathetic.

Here’s the ad in question:

Yglesias is right. The ad distorts Cleland’s voting record (portraying procedural votes on alternate versions a homeland security bill differing mostly the issue of union rights as opposition to President Bush’s efforts to protect the homeland) but is purely about public policy.

Kevin Drum agrees, noting that the recent controversy over the RNC ad “The Stakes,” which implies that voting for the Democrats will make it more likely that al Qaeda will use nuclear weapons against the United States, is “a standard-issue bit of fear-mongering with roots in both LBJ’s infamous ‘Daisy’ ad from 1964 and Reagan’s ‘Bear in the Woods’ ad from 1984.” (A point I’ve made as well.)

Both suggest that the Democrats would be far better off running effective rebutal ads than whining about the unfairness of Republican ads. I would agree. Cleland could certainly have run ads charging that Chambliss was more concerned about screwing workers out of their rights than passing the Homeland Security bill. The rebuttals to the current “we’ll protect you from Osama” ads are rather obvious.

Of course, I’d prefer that the Democrats keep relying on people’s moral indignation about ad campaigns from four years ago and hoping that picking candidates with military medals will overcome the public’s skepticism about their ability to be trusted with the nation’s security. It might be the Republicans’ only shot.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Cernig says:

    Hi James,

    The best rebuttal of the “Stakes” ad I’ve seen comes from the satire site “Unconfirmed Sources”.

    Unconfirmed Sources report al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have filed charges against the National Republican party. The suit contends the GOP had not purchased the rights to the video footage and the verbal threats of Osama bin Laden are the copy righted property of al Qaeda.

    …In a taped statement Ayman al-Zawahiri demanded the adds be pulled off the air until a legal settlement could be reached. According to al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin laden is not against using terroristic threats against the people of America but his disappointed that George W. Bush would resort to “stealing” the copy righted threats.

    Al-Zawahiri went on to state that the Bush administration has shown great skill and expertise in using fear on their fellow citizens but again demanded the President use his own threats and not those belonging to al Qaeda. “I feel that Karl Rove and George W. Bush are capable terrorists they don’t need to steal the intellectual property of others to prove the point.”

    Regards, C

  2. davod says:

    It is not as if the Dems have not taken the same approach.

  3. davod says:


    How is that a rebuttal of the “Stakes” ad. If anything in reinforces the ad. The problem the Dem’s have is that you can either believe they are taking their approach from Bin Laden and co. or that Bin Laden is taking their talking points for his own.

    The Republicans must be paying his agent a fortune for his videos and audio tapes.