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October 1st, 2008
This Martian Life: The Art of the Smear

Autumn is my favorite season. Pardon me for going a little Martha Stewart here but it’s so nice. Leaves change. Warm smells begin to linger in the air. The holiday season beckons from just around the corner. I get to finally wear the clothes I look good in again.  However, every couple years my pastoral bliss is disrupted by hoofbeats in the distance. Suddenly I remember what’s approaching and become very afraid upon hearing its call.

“IT’S DEMOCRACY TIME PARDNERS! YEEEEEEEHAW!!!!”

That’s right. Election season is upon us again. It’s that wonderful time when we all come together and engage in sober and rational debate to elect our leaders and representatives. It’s when we reflect upon the awesome power that comes with self-governance and enjoy the awesome bloody gladiatorial spectacle that is modern campaigning.

The smear really is an art when you get down to it. Like anything technique can be sloppy or refined. As someone who has worked in the political field, including in the state legislature (the home of the stealth smear) I take a somewhat morbid interest in negative campaigning. Some hit pieces are very good. Some are the political equivalent of the Jedi mind trick. Most are clumsy and transparent though and backfire in hilariously embarrassing ways.

I came across one lately though that I think could very well be the first post-modern negative campaign ad. An email has been circulating that includes a picture taken of Mayor Susan Narvaiz dressed in heavy theatrical makeup at a charity event some years ago.

I see that and think, OK, not impressed. The text, which I won’t go into, contained no attacks. It just mentioned policy proposals. It was a hit piece without a hit. Then I noticed the email seemed to indicate that it was sent on behalf of Narvaiz’s campaign and even had a link to the campaign email address. Curious.

I took it upon myself to email the person who sent it, a new player on the San Marcos political scene named ralphtheswimmingpig@(domain redacted).org

A nasty ad is one thing, but I think pretending to be part of a campaign, and communicating on its behalf when one is not, is newsworthy. In fact I think it could be considered fraud. After confirming with the mayor that she doesn’t have, nor ever has had any swimming pigs named Ralph on her campaign staff. I emailed “Ralph”. I gave him/her the chance to explain why he or she did this through a column that’s we’d publish. My condition was they had to use their real name.

“Ralph” got back to me with one weblink to the mayor’s campaign site. It turns out the text of the email in question was cut and paste directly from it. Now I am sure that either this really is the first post-modern negative political ad and is truly a work of genius, or, more likely, it was created by someone who learned from the abridged book of bad politicking.

I know, big deal. It’s just an email, and a profoundly stupid one at that. Even mentioning it gives it more credence than it’s due. However, it bugs me. See, where I come from we aren’t afraid to put our names behind our words. I don’t know how they do it where “Ralph” comes from, but it’s just seems like the right thing to me.

One of my favorite symbols of America is Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” painting. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a man standing up in a meeting who is suddenly the center of attention. He looks nervous but determined. Maybe he doesn’t know all the ins and outs of what he’s about to talk about, but by God he’s got something to say and he’s not afraid to stand up and say it. Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he’s going to say something unpopular. But he isn’t afraid to publicly take a stand and actually be a citizen instead of a spectator (or an anonymous punk)

I don’t care who you vote for and this isn’t about sticking up for the mayor. You’ll find no endorsements here. I’d be just as offended if it happened to any of the other candidates. This is about us as voters being disrespected by these cheap hucksters who think we really are so stupid, so easily manipulated, that we’d just buy into anything with a weird picture and a surreptitious origin.

Looking through and weighing the actual issues is hard enough with the busy lives we all lead. It’s unreasonable to expect constant engagement on the issues. That’s why we’re a republic. However, if we don’t take the time to really get into it and make up our own minds based on the facts, issues and who we really believe can address them to our satisfaction; if we don’t use our reason, then cheap cowards like “Ralph” win because we just didn’t care enough to call them on it.

Let’s start calling them on it.
by SEAN WARDWELL

(Note: the opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author and are not the position of Newstreamz.com or its staff)

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0 thoughts on “This Martian Life: The Art of the Smear

  1. You are correct that this email communication constitutes fraud. More specifically, it is a violation of the State Election Code Section 255.005 Misrepresentation of Identity wherein a person commits an offense if, with intent to injure a candidate or influence the result of an election, the person misrepresents the person’s identity or, if acting or purporting to act as an agent, misrepresents the identity of the agent’s principal, in political advertising or a CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATION.

    This is a Class A misdemeanor. It should be reported to the appropriate authorities. Probably the District Attorney’s office.

    Our elections in Hays County need to be run as clean and above board as possible. There have been some people who claim that it is a violation of their free speech when they hide in the shadows and shout vicious attacks at candidates. I would disagree and I think your Norman Rockwell analogy is superb. Our free speech protection is specifically just that – it protects our right to stand up, in the light of day, and say exactly how we feel about a subject. It was never intentended to protect us from fraudulent attacks.

    Maybe if these people are filed on when they violate the law, they will cut it out and start playing by the rules.

  2. Sigh… really Lila? Now putting your names behind things in this town is like putting a bulls eye on your forehead. The author of the article written may know the name of the person making comments but may I add it would be irresponsible and wrong if that person shared with selective people who was writing the comments don’t you think? I am not saying he would but it is just a reminder that confidentiality still has a place. As for Ralphthe swimming pig. He probalby didn’t know any better and was also being irresponsible. It should not be to hard to figure out who he is. I wonder though if the email circulating was among people on his friends list or some mass attack?

  3. If you are too afraid to say something, then don’t say it. Freedom of speech is not for everyone. But quite frankly, there is no better protection than the light of day. I never said it didn’t take courage to speak up.

    If he/she didn’t know the law, well hey, that’s one sorry excuse, isn’t it?

    I don’t know any of the personalities involved. Don’t live in San Marcos. So I don’t understand some of your inuendos. I just know what the law says. And I think it ought to be followed. And the implication from the article was that the email was being forwarded to more than just someone’s personal email list. But if it makes you feel better to make excuses for them, go ahead.

    I’m not trying to take sides in the mayoral race, just giving my opinion that campaigns should be run in a legal and ethical way. I’m always surprised when people disagree with that.

  4. Yeah I went left about he comments on here because of other things mentioned in other articles about cesoring our right to comment on a opinion based article. Also on the fact that in this town you just have to sit back and watch things happen because I haven’t seen a fair race for any candidate in a while. Our Daily record failed many times to print the truth when it came to some serious issues with some issues rased politically in this for fear from threats their advertisers would pull their advertisements if they printed certain findings. It seems there are only certain people willing to step up and noone really listens to issues. However I was basically stating that this Ralph guy was irresponsible and probably didn’t know really what he was doing, but hey good luck to the people trying to prosecute.

  5. Mr Greene

    I’d ask you to keep whatever comments you have regarding the Missy issue to the column that was devoted to that issue. I’m all for free speech but you don’t get a monopoly and I won’t allow this thread to devolve into another front of this crusade of yours. Let’s keep it on the topic of this column…please.

    That’s why I have deleted your comment in this thread. It isn’t because I feel your right to free speech should be subverted, or that you should not be allowed to advocate. Your speech on this site is as free today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. Instead, I advise you to move it to the thread on the column I wrote about Missy, or any other of the multiple stories we have devoted to this subject. There it will remain untouched and debate will remain unhindered.

    Any further posts on Missy in this thread will be deleted as well. There are numerous other threads on this site devoted to that issue where you can keep this debate alive to your hearts content.

    And no, this is not censorship or anything close to it. Every publication enacts some kind of editorial content control on behalf of the writer and reader to ensure variety of opinion and prevent one issue from establishing a monopoly, such as Mr. Greene is attempting to do. We strongly believe in the right of the public to interact and comment here but it’s irresponsible on our behalf to allow one issue to consume this much space.

    In other words, post all you like, but post in the stories/columns that are actually relevant to your issue. We love our readers and their comments, and we do care about community events. However, we have made a firm choice in this matter, one we feel benefits the bulk of our readership.

  6. This email may be a slightly new twist on negative campaigning, but there was plenty of it going on in the last City Council election.

    The antics by people claiming to be communicating on behalf of both sides were truly disgusting and while I don’t want to drag that all up again and start calling people out, I do know for certain that some of them actually did have campaign affiliations.

    Given where they are now and what they say they are trying to do, I certainly hope they have grown up and are not planning an encore for this election.

  7. I don’t know Ted. I think calling them out is a good idea but I understand the legalities of it. I did run a whois search on the domain name and found nothing conclusive. In fact the name of the person who owns the domain name in question decided to name themselves “Ralph Bacon”

    Cowards like this hide their tracks fairly well and I’ve had to deal with my fair share of these spineless types in town and on campus, and they always run. They never once take a stand. However, if it can be proven, then I say sunshine is the best disinfectant and their actions should be held up to public scrutiny and/or scorn.

  8. It’s not so much a legality issue. I just don’t know what good would come from dragging up the dirt from the Prather/Bose election and wagging my finger at a bunch of people would do. It just opens old wounds and discredits people who may have genuinely changed their ways.

    If I start to see them doing the same again in this election, I will certainly say something.

    I have no idea who Ralph is and I haven’t received the email yet.

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