Americans say they despise negative political ads, but they keep electing candidates who run them. Until Tuesday.
If divisiveness had been on the ballot, it would have lost.
The 2008 campaign was notable for its nastiness. Consider these recent e-mails to our inbox:
“Barack Obama, a Communist, is no Christian.”
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“Obama has told America that he is a Socialist who will rule with an iron fist.”
One letter to the Observer said, “The only difference between Obama and Hitler is that Hitler could speak German.”
So many anti-Obama e-mails with purported “facts” were flying that many people came to believe Obama wasn't born in America, or is a Marxist, or a terrorist, or a Muslim – or maybe all the above. A University of Texas survey found 23 percent of Texans polled believed Obama is Muslim. (Psst: He's Christian.) Things got so nasty that if the Swift Boaters had emerged this year instead of 2004, their stuff would have seemed positively tame.
It wasn't just the presidential campaign. Many N.C. voters were repelled by Sen. Elizabeth Dole's last-minute ads that made it seem challenger Kay Hagan had said, “There is no God.” As her poll numbers dropped in the campaign's final days, many attributed it to disgust with the ads.
Consider the 8th Congressional District, where Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., told a John McCain rally: “Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God.”
His words were widely repeated – especially after he at first denied saying them – and many rejected his idea that people to the left of Hayes aren't “real Americans.” Only Democrat Bev Perdue bucked the trend, winning the governor's mansion despite running a more negative campaign than her opponent, Republican Pat McCrory.
The 2008 results should be a message in red, blinking neon: Voters are fed up with rhetoric that it's un-American not to vote Republican. If anything's un-American, it's that belief. Political disagreement is at the core of our American democracy.
McCain, in conceding, called for people to come together. We hope all his supporters are as gracious as he was. But he can't retract words already spoken, or fears inflamed by lies and smears.
Republicans and Democrats alike should pause today to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, who in his first Inaugural Address in 1861, reminded the nation: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”