My original plan was to patiently wait until midterm election eve before singling out the season’s most repugnant campaign ad. But why wait when the winner is already so obvious?
Granted, considering all the air(wave) pollution still to come, it’s arguably premature to award first place to Republican senatorial candidate David Perdue. But I can’t imagine that anyone could possibly outpace Perdue’s admakers for sheer chutzpah and post-truth creativity. It takes a perverse form of genius to allege, in a 30-second ad, that one’s opponent – in this case, Michelle Nunn, daughter of retired senator and defense hawk Sam Nunn – has funded terrorists.
We’re not talking here about the rote Republican charge that an opponent is “soft” on terrorists (as I said last week, we’re hearing that in other races). No, what we’ve heard this month in Georgia – one of those key Senate races that could tip the chamber to either party – is that Nunn is apparently so soft, she’s actually pumped money into terrorist coffers. Or, as the Perdue TV ad put it, “she funded organizations linked to terrorists.”
The truth, of course, is that she did no such thing, and the details, of course, are way too nuanced for a 30-second ad. Indeed, the smear flies past the viewer during the initial five seconds – just as Republicans intended. They wanted the average Georgia couch potato to go forth into the world and say to people, “Hey, I think I saw something somewhere about how Michelle Nunn finances terrorists.”
As Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” But what the heck, let’s put on the shoes anyway:
Last winter, a right-wing magazine somehow got its hands on a confidential memo prepared by the nascent Nunn campaign. The memo listed some of the likeliest lies that Republicans would hurl at her – for instance, that during her civic career, she had been some kind of terrorist paymaster. The memo turned out to be eerily prescient.
The full sentence in the ad purports to cite that memo: “Michelle Nunn’s own plan says she funded organizations linked to terrorist.” So the Republican lie is really a two-fer. The memo didn’t say that she funded such organizations; it merely anticipated that Republicans would twist her record to insinuate that she had done so, during her six-year tenure as CEO of the non-profit Points of Light Foundation.
Oh, by the way. Does the name Points of Light Foundation ring a bell? Here’s a hint: During the 1988 presidential campaign, George Bush senior talked nonstop about the importance of private charity, what he called “a thousand points of light.”
Bush founded the Points of Light Foundation. One of his sons, Neil Bush, is currently chairman of the Points of Light Foundation. So here we have David Perdue, the Republican senatorial candidate, basically claiming that a Bush family project has been a war chest for terrorists. This is what I meant, a few paragraphs north, when I invoked the word chutzpah.
But perhaps Michelle Nunn took this laudable Bush heirloom and cravely twisted it for terrorist purposes? Decide for yourself:
Back in 2003, before Nunn entered the picture, a Points of Light subsidiary called MissionFish forged a deal with eBay: sellers on the site were invited to give their proceeds to various charities vetted as legit by MissionFish. Over the years (Nunn came on board in ’07), the list has expanded to 20,000 charities. One of those 20,000 charities is a long-established non-profit called Islamic Relief USA, which has garnered $13,500 for its disaster relief efforts under the eBay-MissionFish program. IslamicRelief USA also partners on disaster relief efforts with an umbrella group called Islamic Relief Worldwide. A top Israeli official has attacked Islamic Relief Worldwide, claiming that it has links to Hamas.
Bingo, Nunn must be a terrorist paymaster! Because of that chain of, um, evidence. Because, if nothing else, that word Islamic sure sounds scary.
Thing is, the U.S. State Department does not list Islamic Relief Worldwide as a terrorist front or terrorist sympathizer. The United Kingdom Charity Commission, which regulates the group with charitable givers in mind, says the group is clean. And as for IslamicRelief USA, that group appears nowhere on the U.S. terrorist watch lists. Which is why eBay still lists IslamicRelief USA as an approved charity in its PayPal Giving Fund. (That’s the successor to the original program. Three years ago, Nunn’s Points of Light sold MissionFish to eBay.)
See what I mean? The truth can’t fit into a smear ad. And even in her rebuttal ad, Nunn has no time to explain it.
Which is apparently what ticked off Neil Bush not long ago, when he said of Perdue: “To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.” But Perdue has defended his ad. And he has been endorsed by none other than George Bush senior, who in his dotage is still so loyal to his party that he doesn’t mind a repugnant smear at his own expense.
Ah, the pervesity of politics. Just another reason why two-thirds of the voters will likely skip the ballot in November.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.