Originally published in The Oregonian, November 1, 2012
Four years later, attack ads replace Democrat’s hope and change
What a difference four years has made.
In 2008, Democrats were embracing the future with optimistic slogans like “Yes we can!” In 2012, their cupboard of hope and change appears empty and the only thing they have to sell is fear itself.
This isn’t just true of the presidential election. We’ve also seen it recently in our secretary of state and labor commissioner races. Oregon’s two largest public employee unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Oregon Education Association (OEA), joined together last week for a major television buy supporting Secretary of State Kate Brown and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, both Democrats (although labor commissioner has been a nonpartisan office since 1995).
Yet the ad doesn’t mention either Brown or Avakian. Instead it accuses their opponents, Republican secretary of state nominee Knute Buehler and labor commissioner candidate Bruce Starr, of being members of the “right-wing extreme team” in Oregon politics. While accusing Republicans of being “right wing” and “extremists” is standard fare these days, the labels are particularly off-base for these two candidates.
Starr has served in the Oregon Legislature since 1999. During that time he has distinguished himself as a Republican who can work with Democrats across party lines, particularly on critical issues such as transportation and the budget. During the last year of John Kitzhaber’s second term as governor, Starr was part of a cadre of Republicans who joined Democrats to refer a temporary income tax increase to voters in response to a growing budget deficit.
Hardly the record of a right-wing extremist.
Buehler is a first-time candidate but a long-time volunteer for independent, nonpartisan election reform. He helped craft a measure limiting campaign contributions that voters passed in 1994 but was subsequently overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court. He more recently worked with former Secretary of State Phil Keisling, a Democrat, promoting a ballot measure instituting an open primary to enfranchise independents and allow Republicans and Democrats to cross party lines to help choose nominees from the mainstream rather than the extreme of both parties.
These facts contrast starkly with the message of the attack ad accusing Buehler of opposing vote-by-mail, a charge that The Oregonian’s PolitiFact Oregon labeled as “Pants on Fire” false. The ad also complains that Starr voted against Oregon’s second-highest minimum wage in the country and that both men support a ballot measure repealing Oregon’s death tax, the fate of which Oregon voters, not elected officials, will decide Tuesday.
If this is what passes for right-wing extremism today, Oregon liberals should sleep well.
These last-minute attack ads are being financed through a new political action committee called Too Extreme for Oregon. Besides SEIU and OEA, the third initial contributor to this committee was Portland’s Win McCormack, a journalist, publisher and heir to several family fortunes.
McCormack is a longtime major Democratic donor and a particularly generous benefactor to the Obama campaign in 2008. He boasted to The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes after Barack Obama’s election that “being an ambassador might be fun, in the second term.”
McCormack’s assistance to Obama went beyond financial contributions. He also wrote a series of columns for the Huffington Post full of personal attacks on John McCain and his family. In one he quoted a disgruntled former employee attributing Cindy McCain’s prescription drug addiction years before to her being “a very sad, lonely woman whose marriage of convenience to a U.S. senator” caused her to “cover feelings of despair with drugs” and “replace lonely moments with self-indulgences.”
McCormack also quoted a reference to Cindy that used the same c-word that comedian and Obama supporter Bill Maher used to describe Sarah Palin.
In another column McCormack belittled McCain’s military service, including his years held as a prisoner of war in Hanoi. After admitting that McCain refused an offer of early release ahead of others who had been held longer, McCormack went on to write that “McCain subsequently broke down under torture and made a taped confession that was broadcast over Hanoi radio. … He displayed fortitude and valor, but not of a sufficient kind or degree to justify the repeated attempts to portray him as an exceptional hero in the circumstances.”
By McCormack’s standards, the attack ads on Buehler and Starr may seem tame. Still, they do not speak well for a party that just four years ago promised us change we could believe in.