The silly season is here. In just a few weeks, California voters will decide which candidates will move on to November’s top two runoff. With vote-by-mail ballots arriving, campaigns are ramping up their spending and voter communications. Mailboxes are full of fliers, social media feeds are full of posts and political ads are breaking in to every conceivable type of programming.
But if that isn’t enough, “contrast” ads are raising their ugly heads. Or, as most of us call them, negative political attacks.
Negative attacks have a long history in America. Commentary magazine in its May 2014 issue notes that the 1800 race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams was vicious and nasty. One pro-Adams newspaper even proclaimed that if Jefferson were elected, “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes.”
Strong stuff, thank God we haven’t sunk that low yet. However, it’s still early.
Already, local candidates have taken to bashing their opponents. In Silicon Valley’s 17th Congressional District, incumbent Mike Honda has raised the specter that fellow Democrat Ro Khanna will support, “the same failed Republican policies that hurt our economy in the first place and puts corporations and the wealthy ahead of the middle class.”
Khanna answers that Honda should give back money received from Pacific Gas and Electric over his 14 years in Congress and insinuating that Honda cares about profits more than people saying, “I believe such steps are necessary to demonstrate to your constituents that you put the rights and safety of California consumers ahead of corporate PAC contributions.”
Over in the East Bay, accusations in state Senate District 10 are flying thick and fast. In an attack by Democrat Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, Mary Hayashi was labeled “Mug Shot Mary” for her conviction in stealing $2,500 worth of clothes from Neiman Marcus. Soon thereafter, in what must be a complete coincidence, the East Bay Express reported, “A violent feud between the wife of a former East Bay state assemblymember and the ex-chief of staff of a current one [Wieckowski] is raising questions about the use of taxpayer funds on what appears to have been a private — albeit, salacious — dispute.” Oh, the drama!
Republicans can play these games too.
This week, gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly accused his opponent of “submission” to Sharia law, the Islamic code that governs Muslim personal, business, political and religious behavior. This is a bizarre claim on its face since his opponent, Neel Kashkari, is Midwestern born, of Indian descent and a Hindu. Muslims and Hindus have been at loggerheads for centuries. The 2008 Muslim attacks in Mumbai that killed 164 are part of this cycle of violence, as are attacks on Muslims in the run-up to India’s ongoing presidential election.
Donnelly’s outlandish claim rests on the fact that while he was assistant treasury secretary in the George W. Bush administration, Kashkari spent five minutes giving an official welcome to an academic conference designed to understand Sharia compliant banking and its role in the world’s financial crisis.
Nevertheless, Kashkari’s brown skin and a slightly odd way of spelling his name are enough for Donnelly and his supporters to go off into crazy land. The attack is so over the top that the Alameda County Republican Party in a Facebook post said that the Donnelly forces were using, “bigotry, racism and outright ignorance” and that their attacks are “innuendo and false reporting.”
To be fair, Kashkari has gone after Donnelly as well. Not only in response to the Sharia charges, saying that Donnelly, “doesn’t understand the most basic elements of what he’s talking about,” but also in his “Tim Donnelly Facts” website. There he highlights others’ criticism of Donnelly’s voting to save corrupt redevelopment agencies as making him the “most Socialist” candidate. Tim Donnelly may be many things, but he is far from being even remotely close to a Socialist. It’s a dumb claim and Kashkari should never have repeated it.
Unfortunately, the barrage of negative political attacks will continue into November. The best way to deal with them is to heed the words of Marvin Gaye in “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.” That’s sound advice, not silly at all.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.