Newspaper article

Next Election, Expect Republicans to Wield Their S-Words

Newspaper article

Next Election, Expect Republicans to Wield Their S-Words

Article excerpt

Killer words come, lose their power to kill, and (maybe) go. But fond memories of Paul Wellstone grow fonder.

Writing for “Inside Elections” Stu Rothenberg hearkens back to the day when, if a Republican wanted to attack a Democrat, they would try to hang the word “liberal” around their neck. Now it’s “socialist.” In some cases, it’s the same policies that are under attack, like getting more people access to health care.

Rothenberg reminisced about the late Arthur Finkelstein, a Republican campaign consultant, nicknamed the “terminator” for his aggressive tactics and messaging. His specialty was weaponizing the word “liberal,” and one of his (relatively) few failures was in the 1996 Minnesota rematch between Sen. Paul Wellstone, and former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.

During that race, in brilliant Dadaist fashion, Finkelstein labeled Wellstone as “liberal, liberal, liberal” in one ad, and “embarrassingly liberal” in another.

It was a cookie-cutter strategy. About Finkelstein’s work (his clients won far more than they lost) Political scientist Darrell West wrote: “He uses a sledgehammer in every race … I’ve detected five phrases he uses — ultraliberal, superliberal, embarrassingly liberal, foolishly liberal and unbelievably liberal.” A National Republican Senatorial Committee attack ad by Finkelstein was described by the Washington Post:

A typical Boschwitz ad shows a distorted face and head of Wellstone atop a cartoon figure in a slovenly blue suit and red tie with arms that pop out with a “Liberal” sign when the announcer says: “He voted against the Balanced Budget Amendment” or “He voted against the death penalty for murderers, terrorists and drug kingpins” or “He’s voted against workfare time and again.”

Wellstone, who today would be attacked as “radical” and especially “socialist” (he was for national single-payer health care) actually embraced the “L” word, which had been used to describe moderate leftism in U. …

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