Political Mischief: Smear, Sabotage, and Reform in U.S. Elections

By Bruce L. Felknor | Go to book overview

Part II
The Elements of Unfair Campaigning

The six chapters that follow examine the campaign aspects of political mischief, the fundamental elements of defamation and deception as practiced in American election campaigns. These include efforts to turn voters against a candidate: by sheer vituperation (Chapter 4); by the attribution of gross moral or mental defects (Chapter 5); by appeals to religious or other biases and prejudice (Chapter 6); by distorting the truth (Chapter 7); by outright falsehood and other fabrications (Chapter 8); and by spurious appeals to patriotism or the imputation of treason (Chapter 9).

The reader will note that those who employ these tactics of deception and disaffection span a broad range, including rival candidates, campaign or other political organizations, citizens or organizations with a particular axe to grind, some elements of the news media, religious bodies, individuals bearing some grudge against a candidate, and people or groups that see the candidate as a threat to society.

It is also noteworthy that motivations for using these methods of disrupting the political dialog of election campaigns range from a merely tactical willingness to cheat a bit for a few more votes to a deeply sincere conviction--which may be either rational or quite demented--that the candidate under attack is profoundly dangerous to public safety or morals.

All of the tactics described here are ancient. Only the means by which they are employed have changed with the continuing technological revolution, which was under way when the country was young. From this it may be seen that the exploitation of new ways to perpetrate old tricks is one of the oldest political traditions.

-47-

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