Friday, May 13, 2005

A Disappointing Democrat

by Kyle Michaelis
As easy as it may be to decry all of it as debasing and damaging to democracy, there is a place for negative campaigning. In fact, when it focuses on an opposing candidates' record or blatant hypocrisy, criticism is not only healthy but is an essential component in the education and winning of voters. Democracy is not a happy-go-lucky game and it isn't served by turning a blind eye to the failure and failings of those who would be our leaders.

However, one can either go on the attack with integrity, in a forward and open manner that trusts voters and weighs the consequences of going negative, or they can attack as cowards, using fake committees, cheap insults, and improper funds to do the dirty work. Sadly, the latter of these types is disgustingly prevalent, as evidenced by the Republicans' pathetic, dishonest, but nevertheless effective attacks against out-going Lincoln city councilman Terry Werner earlier this month. Such exploitative and cynical campaigning makes less of our democracy and, in so doing, make less of the character of our nation.

In Lincoln, the Democrats conducted themselves honorably and with integrity against this vicious on-slaught. They were the good guys even if they suffered somewhat for their strategy - the idea being that the long-term gain for the party and the people would far outweigh any short-term loss. Of course, lack of funds was probably a facter as well because some of Robin Eschliman's most outlandish statements deserved to be brought to light. As stated, though, there would have been a principled way to do this, which I'm sure would have been the case here if the Dems had the resouces and inclination to go negative, painting a stark contrast with their "anything goes" counterparts on the other side of the fence.

In Omaha, I'm now sad to report, this distinction of principle was not maintained, as the Douglas County Democratic Party Chairman got caught up in the scandal-mongering and brought shame on his party in the process. I am pained to agree with the World-Herald as they wrote:
The very expression "self-government" evokes the reverence this concept (fair play in democracy) should command. It also explains why Omahans should be outraged at the mud-slinging that tainted and tarred everyone who had a hand in it.

We refer particularly to the 11th-hour attacks on City Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson - attacks with allegations of the sort that backbiters and gossipers are too cowardly to bring into the light of day, the sort of smearing that reflects on the character of the smearer.

This is the kind of sludge so noxious that it has to be dropped on doorsteps in the night or mailed over the name of made-up "committees" from short-term post-office boxes.

These boxes are rented for only one purpose by people such as Ron Hug, the Democratic Party chairman for Douglas County, whose name was on the box listed as the return address for the attempted Sigerson smear. Hug did not admit or disavow the Sigerson mailing.

Fair-minded people can only hope that whoever engineered the attack on Vokal also will be named. The proper penalty is to carry the black eye of the mud-slinger into future political activities.

Campaign laws, disclosure rules and pure ethics should be enough to stem this kind of activity. But it happens anyway. Thus the community needs to rely, in addition, on the long memory of the voters. Let them draw what conclusions they will about the character of those who slink around in the political shadows seeking to destroy reputation for partisan gain (in a nonpartisan election, no less).

And then let them remember, and remember, and remember some more, so that the mud-slinkers will have a good long time to regret what they have done to their own good name - and to the people's cherished process of self-government.
The flier with which Hug was involved came from a fictional group called "Omahans for Truth" and asserted that Sigerson "sexually harrassed a minor." The World-Herald previously reported:
When questioned by The World-Herald about its discovery of Hug's involvement, Hug acknowledged that he lined up the post office box, gave his name and listed the address of the county party headquarters on the application. Neither the party nor organized labor was involved in arranging for the box or in financing the mailing, Hug said.

"Omahans for Truth" made up of individuals that Hug declined to identify.
No matter the legitimacy of this sexual harrassment claim (which is not without merit), tactics such as this misdirection from the shadows should not be employed by anyone, let alone the chair of the county Democratic Party.

How dare Hug say the party was not involved when his stupid choices as the leader of that organization made that impossible. This revelation most certainly hurt Anne Boyle when she claimed to have had nothing to do with the mysterious anti-Vokal mailing. Hug's actions made for a pattern of deceit and dirty politics that informed voters' could not help but link to this situation, thus assuming the worst of a fellow Democrat. This was shameful and hurtful, and it's about time Omaha Democrats held their elected chair accoutable.

Whereas Mayor Fahey's massive victory should have been a sign of good things to come for Omaha and Nebraska Democrats, some of that spark has most certainly been dimmed by this abuse of the people's trust.

My God, chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party Steve Achelpohl, in the week of an election, had to step in and say he was "appalled" by the attack, praying most people would appreciate that "the Nebraska Democratic Party had nothing to do with this." Fat chance. Things are hard enough for Democrats in this state without nonsense like this making the party's difficult task of reconnecting with voters that much more impossible.


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