Tags: 2020 Elections | Presidential History | Trump Impeachment | jefferson | jeffersonians | adams | callender

Is Attack by Fabrication Democrats' Real Campaign Strategy?

democrats against trump as seen in newspapers

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By Thursday, 10 September 2020 05:09 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Do calculated campaigns of mendacity work?

Can you attain the presidency — and achieve during it — through a coordinated program of lies grossly misrepresenting character and deeds?

The problem is as old as civilization or human nature, which explains the Biblical injunction against bearing false witness.

Bill Clinton, according to one of his Democratic colleagues, Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., was an "unusually good liar," and Republican pundit William Safire declared that Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was a "congenital liar."

That this was an effective campaign tactic for the Clintons was even underscored by a remarkable (and very readable) originally pseudonymously-published novel of a Clinton-like protagonist who used pernicious fabrication and character destruction as a routine political tool.

It's a staple of Democratic campaigning these days that President Donald Trump has an uneasy relationship with the truth, although more careful observers understand that while he may be given to embellishment and irony, there is always serious substance to his assertions.

It looks as if we can expect two apparent untruths to loom large in the remaining two months of the 2020 Presidential campaign, as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have both perpetuated the falsehood that Trump has lavished praise on neo-Nazis, and Biden has now latched on to the strongly-denied and most likely false assertion that Trump disparaged American troops as "losers" and "suckers."

The circulation of these scurrilous charges, in what appears to be a carefully-orchestrated effort to counter good economic and diplomatic developments for the administration is a lamentable, if predictable, development in what promises to be one of the nastiest campaigns ever mounted.

Will it work?

One would like to think, if not wholeheartedly believe, that presidential contests are settled on the basis of competing policy proposals or at least competing visions for the nation, but perpetration of falsehoods, which have been a staple of our politics for the entire existence of our constitutional republic would not continually be employed if they weren’t effective.

In one of the earliest such efforts, Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1800 in part through the canny employment of scurrilous journalists, such as John Thomson Callender, who perpetrated the lies that John Adams, the incumbent whom Jefferson went on to defeat, was a closet monarchist, a "hoary-headed" incendiary, and a traitor to his own country who favored British interests over ours.

Similarly, Jefferson bankrolled Thomas Cooper who published a broadside claiming falsely that Adams had wrongfully interfered with our court system in order to release an American into the hands of the British, when, in fact, Adams had quite properly allowed the extradition of an Englishman accused of murder.

Jefferson’s support for this campaign of mendacity led to an acrimonious break between him and his former beloved colleague Adams, only resolved many years later.

More to the point, Jefferson’s campaign was successful, and the embittered Adams was denied a second term.

Of even more interest, the Adams administration’s attempt to punish the Jeffersonian campaign of lies through the use of the criminal law (which then punished untruthful assertions about public figures) backfired against them, as the Jeffersonians cleverly presented their writers as victims of a vendetta against freedom of the press.

We still allow recovery in private actions for damage to reputations, though the criminal law invoked against the Jeffersonians is no longer in force, and it is conceivable that the "anonymous sources" of the assertions regarding President Trump’s disparagement of the military have refused to come forward — because their untruths would be exposed in court, possibly leading to ruinous verdicts against them.

Former CBS journalist Dan Rather opined that whether Trump said it or not, it’s "believable," and this reflects the attitude of many that we are in a "post-truth" age, with "reality" as just a convenient social construction, adopted perhaps to facilitate particular political goals.

This is a fundamental error, yet it now permeates our culture and our institutions.

There ought to be no real need for falsehood in this election, as the two parties represent stark choices about the country's future.

The Republicans offer essentially a return to traditional American ideas of patriotism and piety, individual economic freedom, decentralization, deregulation, and enhanced protection for private property and public security.

The Democrats have acknowledged that they favor "fundamental transformation," with attendant extirpation of what they see as "systematic racism," including reparation, redistribution, perhaps socialism, increased regulation, and regimentation to meet the needs of the threats of disease and climate change, inclusive of a rejection of nationalism — in favor of globalism.

At least one pundit observing the Democrats’ virtual convention wondered whether the Democrats actually had no program, and thus were reduced simply to attacks on the incumbent. A better question might be whether the Democrats’ tactic of fabrication is designed to obscure their actual aims.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. Read Stephen B. Presser's Reports More Here.

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At least one pundit observing the Democrats’ virtual convention wondered whether the Democrats were reduced simply to attacks on the incumbent. A better question might be whether the Democrats’ tactic of fabrication is designed to obscure their actual aims.
jefferson, jeffersonians, adams, callender, cbs, rather
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2020-09-10
Thursday, 10 September 2020 05:09 PM
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