Disgustingly, modern U.S. political campaigns focus less on genuine issues affecting Americans and more on distorted TV smears designed to personally taint opponents.
That's what happened in the 2004 presidential race when Vietnam war hero John Kerry was branded as unpatriotic by dishonest "Swift Boat" ads.
That's what happened in the 1988 campaign when Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was branded as soft on black rapists by notorious "Willie Horton" spots. GOP campaign manager Lee Atwater gloated: "By the time we're finished, they're going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis' running-mate."
Atwater later became national GOP chairman. Previously he was an author of President Nixon's "Southern strategy" that helped turn Dixie Republican by appealing subtly to white racism. In 1991, as he was dying of brain cancer, Atwater wrote a Life magazine apology saying he was sorry for the "naked cruelty" he inflicted on Dukakis three years earlier.
Well, political smears are back in today's news, because Mother Jones magazine found a secret tape recording of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plotting with aides on how to taint movie star Ashley Judd if she opposed McConnell in the next election.
Over the years, Judd has candidly acknowledged in speeches and writing that she suffered rape three different times, and suffered an emotional breakdown two decades ago. On the tape, McConnell's aides gleefully talk of using those admissions to destroy her in a campaign: "She is emotionally unbalanced. I mean, it's been documented."
The campaign aides also said Judd could be accused of supporting ObamaCare, gay marriage and women's right to choose. And she once called Christianity a "vestige of patriarchy." She has voiced New Age spiritual sentiments.
As it turned out, Judd withdrew her name from the Kentucky Senate race, so the private McConnell strategy session was shelved.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Robin Abcarian said the secret tape revealed plotting "how to take apart a 'flaky' actress." Abcarian said Judd probably would have lost in Kentucky because she "is too liberal, too confessional, and way too New Agey to make it in a place that has been a stronghold of the American evangelical right."It would be great if campaigning politicians focused on real issues, instead of trying to make opponents seem personally repulsive.