Robo-Calling and Dirty Tricks
Conn Carroll concisely sums up a controversy brewing in the Left-o-Sphere that has been, so far as I can tell, been ignored by the major blogs on the Right.
Talking Points Memo is leading lefty blogger reporting on robocalls going to voters throughout the country including NH-02, NY-19, IL-06, IL-08, CA-04, and CT-04. the calls begin: “I’m calling with information about [fill in name of Democratic candidate]” and then “goes on to bash the Democratic candidate.” TPM also reports if listeners try to hang up, they are automatically called back as many as eight times. Josh Marshall writes: “Hang-ups are the achilles heal of robo-calls. So this seems to be an attempt to cover for that weakness by making those who hang up think the Democratic candidate is basically harassing them with phone calls. The GOP wins either way.
Kevin Drum is more than a little steamed by the practice but mostly perplexed by the lack of mainstream press coverage:
This kind of tactic is only going to get more common unless the media trumpets it loud and clear and the Republican Party pays a price for it on Tuesday. Conversely, if it flies under the radar and helps produce a few GOP wins, they’ll do it again. And again. And again.
Evidence would seem to point to this as a widespread practice but it has mostly flown off the radar screen. It seems to have been overtaken by events in Iraq and the flap over Kerry’s “joke” about how dumb presidents with multiple Ivy League degrees need more education lest they wind up serving in Iraq as soldiers (or something like that; his humor is too highbrow for me).
It goes without saying, I think, that harassing voters while misleading them into thinking that the calls are coming from one’s opponent is sleazy. It falls well short, say we say, of the Jeffersonian ideal of democracy. I’m not sure, though, that it’s any more despicable than myriad other “dirty tricks” that have been around for years, such as push polling. Or intentionally dishonest negative ads distorting people’s voting records, positions on the issues, relationships with controversial groups, and so forth. Indeed, WaPo’s Dan Balz claims that, “robo calls are very common — one reason is they’re extremely inexpensive — and often are as negative as they are positive.”
One would prefer, certainly, that elections be about an honest comparison of the candidate’s stances on the issues, their experience, and the like. Sadly, close elections seldom seem to be run that way. And most elections are close these days.