Friday, October 31, 2008

Updates on Hagan-Dole Race

Over the last few days, I've written about the despicable smear ad from Sen. Elizabeth Dole and my thoughts on the response from challenger Kay Hagan. Well, today has seen more action in this increasingly ugly campaign. First, Sen. Dole (not surprisingly) ignored Hagan's cease and desist letter. So Hagan filed a defamation suit against Sen. Dole and Dole's campaign committee. And, for her part, Sen. Dole has released yet another smear ad:

First, a quick look at the facts. Hagan attended a fundraiser in Boston. It was hosted by dozens of donors and featured, among others, Sen. John Kerry. Two of those donors happen to be the heads of an organization called Godless Americans PAC (couldn't they come up with a better name that that?). That PAC did not give any money to Hagan, but one of the individuals associated with the PAC did give her just over $2,000. And Hagan says that she did not know that the individual donor was also associated with that particular PAC.

But what is more important is to really think about Sen. Dole's charge and what it really says about Sen. Dole's version of America. Her charge -- she's now dropped the allegation that Hagan herself is an atheist -- is that Hagan ... gasp ... took money from atheists and implies, from that charge, that Hagan is unfit to represent the citizens of North Carolina. Again, replace atheist with any other minority group, whether Muslim, Jew, Mormon, Catholic ... or black. Presume, for a moment, that Hagan knowingly accepted money from atheists. What of it? Would Hagan be criticized for taking money from Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Catholics, blacks, Latinos, or any other group? Of course not. So what makes atheists toxic? Or is it, perhaps, that what Sen. Dole is really saying is that Hagan should be suspect for accepting money from somebody who "isn't like you"? But then, that would imply that taking money from any minority group would be "bad". And that is, it seems, precisely what Sen. Dole's ad is intended to imply.

I'd be curious to hear from Sen. Dole whether she believes that atheists are somehow lesser members of society or less entitled to constitutional protections or civic participation and, if she answered either in the affirmative, her explanation of why.

As I've said before, the suggestion that any legal segment of society is somehow untouchable is dangerous for our society. But as we've seen this campaign (and in other campaigns of recent years), the politics of fear and division far too often seem to work. This year, those politics have taken many forms, from the rumors that Sen. Obama is an Muslim (or Arab), to the charges that some areas are "pro-America" (or "real Virginia") or some members of Congress (not to mention Sen. Obama) are "anti-American", to the use of darkened photos of a Congressional candidate of Indian decent that make him look sinister (like an Arab, maybe?), to the repeated use at some Republican rallies of Sen. Obama's middle name, to Sen. Dole's use of atheists as if she was talking about devil worshippers or pedophiles.

But what is gratifying to see is that this year, for a change, it appears as if many Americans have finally decided that they're tired of these kinds of divisive politics and many of the candidates relying upon those tactics are trailing in the polls. Right now, challenger Hagan is leading Sen. Dole.


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