Do you, undecided, apathetic, holier-than-thout, cooler-than-thou, would-be voter STILL believe there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans? I offer this brief Exhibit in support of the humble thesis that there is indeed a difference – a diference with a distinction, as it were.

As an initial matter, to blithely propose that, at any (and all, according to some) moment in time, two political parties with almost 350 years on the American scene combined are EXACTLY equal in their assholitude is not what I would call evidence of a mind long soothed by platitudes that wants to be discomforted by nuances. Nuances, in fact, are the least of it. One not need look for nuances to discern the difference between the parties. Off the top of my head, I can name an instructive area in which to look that sharply reveals the difference: the parties’ campaign “approaches”.

Way back in 1964, the Democrats (a party which at that time was really half Democrat and half Republican, in today’s terms) smeared the daylights out of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Emblematic of this hatchet job was the brilliant (and brilliantly underhanded) “Daisy” commercial, which so strongly implied, in such apocalyptic terms, that Barry Goldwater wanted to blow up the world, that the commercial was pulled after only having ran once. A similar ad, which never aired, features a little girl licking an ice cream cone laced with Strontium-90, a byproduct of nuclear weapons tests. Against the backdrop of the girl’s licks intones a sickly stern voice, solemnly informing us that Goldwater voted against the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, and if it were up to him, we’d be buried in a world of high-level radioactive waste before we died from the actual dropping of a bomb in a heavily populated area.

LBJ, of course, won in a landslide – the worst landslide that ever happened for either party. In 1968, Dick Nixon appealed to Southern white bigots who believed a vote for Wallace was a wasted vote with what came to be known as “the Southern strategy” – using (sometimes not-so) coded language, exploitative imagery, and innuuendo, to scare these voters into believing that black men were going to murder them. Or welfare them or civil rights them to death. Or something. The resultant hatred (augmented by pre-existing hate) was carefully nourished by Republican pundits and political consultants, and was most flagrantly appealed to just 18 years ago when Republicans ran, day after day, an ad showing the picture of a Massachusetts prisoner who, because of a weekend furlough program maintained by Michael Dukakis, went on a rape rampage during one such weekend furlough (the program was instituted by a Republican predecessor, and George H.W. Bush supported a similar program that resulted in the death of an individual killed by the furloughed prisoner, but these facts were too much “nuance”). This prisoner, presented against a dark blue background with bright yellow wording telling us how soft on crime Dukakis was, is, of course, Willie Horton, whose face was made to look darker than it was. No Presidential election since has come close to producing such a despicable ad, but the Southern strategy continues until the present, albeit in more “muted” forms (that is, if you think Bill Bennett’s comments about aborting black babies can be considered “muted”).

This year – 2006 – involves a new low for Republicans – an attack for naked politican gain that, in its own way, is as despicable as the Horton ad:


Every day, journalists face a great dilemma: Do we even bother trying to argue with the likes of Rush Limbaugh? Or do we ignore him, figuring his dishonesty and ignorance are self-evident?

Normally I opt for the latter approach, but today I’m going to make an exception.

Some of you may have heard about an advertisement running in Missouri, on behalf of Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill. The ad stars the actor Michael J. Fox. In it, Fox asks voters to support McCaskill because, unlike her Republican opponent, McCaskill supports stem cell research — which might eventually lead to a cure for Parkinson’s. The ad is particularly effective because Fox is swaying back and forth during the entire ad, apparently because of the Parkinson’s.

Enter Limbaugh. On today’s show, while responding to some listener e-mail, Limbaugh said “when I saw the ad, I was commenting … that he was either off his medications or he is acting. He is an actor, you know.” Limbaugh then mentioned receiving e-mails arguing that Fox had admitted to going off medications during public appearances, in order to demonstrate the severity of the disease. Limbaugh went on to insist “I’m not even being critical of that,” (which is, of course, precisely why he uttered the response he did) but that he still found the ad to be “exploitative.”

You can listen to the segment (and see the original ad) via, which is where I found it.
Since I didn’t hear the rest of the broadcast, I suppose it’s possible I’m missing some context. But assuming I’m not, it seemed worth checking out this little tidbit, just to set the record straight: Could a patient on Parkinson’s show such symptoms even while he was on his medication?

Fortunately, I have access to this thing called the Internet and this nifty search engine called Google. A few clicks led me to William J. Weiner M.D., professor and chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He’s also director of the Parkinson’s clinic there.

Even better, it turns out Dr. Weiner has a phone. When I reached him, he said he’d seen the ad earlier in the day and was fairly surprised to hear about Limbaugh’s reaction. Here’s why:

What you are seeing on the video is side effects of the medication. He has to take that medication to sit there and talk to you like that. … He’s not over-dramatizing. … [Limbaugh] is revealing his ignorance of Parkinson’s disease, because people with Parkinson’s don’t look like that at all when they’re not taking their medication. They look stiff, and frozen, and don’t move at all. … People with Parkinson’s, when they’ve had the disease for awhile, are in this bind, where if they don’t take any medication, they can be stiff and hardly able to talk. And if they do take their medication, so they can talk, they get all of this movement, like what you see in the ad.

Weiner was careful to disclose that a researcher in his center recently received a grant from the Fox Foundation. But he assured me that he was on solid medical ground. I take him at his word, but I’ll try to get some further confirmation later.

In the meantime, Weiner also pointed out something else I hadn’t considered: Fox was actually being commendably nuanced in the ad. The actor could have said stem cells will lead to a Parkinson’s cure, but he said merely that it gives patients hope — which is accurate. There’s no way to know for sure what stem cells will do for Parkinson’s, or other diseases, but they have the potential to do so. The only way to find out for sure is to do the research that Limbaugh and his allies are bent on blocking.
–Jonathan Cohn”

There is indeed a difference. People in general on both sides – and on neither – are too blinded by hate to see it.

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