Campaign 2010: Year of the lie

Elections are exercises in nastiness and truth-stretching. You expect attack ads to be over-the-top. You expect candidates to play fast and loose with facts.

You do not expect candidates and parties to lie their collective butts off, to sell voters on whopper after whopper, to make stuff up from whole cloth.

I can’t recall a campaign season with so much lying. The candidates lie. Their handlers lie. And the state Democratic Party is mailing lie after lie to voters in key legislative races to prevent Republican gains in Carson City.

I’ve never bought into the argument that the political process is less civil than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. But today’s campaign standards are definitely less honest.

Projecting political strength means never saying you’re sorry, never saying you made a mistake, never saying you changed your mind or were wrong.

Today, verbal gaffes are handled by declaring the media or an opponent has “mischaracterized” a comment or taken it “out of context.” Sometimes, a new reality is fabricated as an explanation.

If a candidate hints at a position change or answers a question in a way that’s inconsistent with previous responses, the campaign insists that, no, the answer is no different from previous responses. No, the position hasn’t changed. Pay no attention to that YouTube clip!

In the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle race, in particular, both candidates have lied to try to make up for various blunders. Angle has reinvented a few of her positions without reconciling past statements. During this month’s Senate debate, Reid offered what might be the election’s most fantastical lie, a delusional recollection of his Iraq “war is lost” comment from 2007. Way back then, the majority leader blasted the three-month-old troop surge led by Gen. David Petraeus as “not accomplishing anything,” and he worked to stop it.

Reid would now have us believe that he worked with Petraeus on the troop surge and made his famous comment before the surge even started, in a highly nuanced context. Essentially, he’s now trying to take credit for the success of the surge. Unreal.

Down the ticket, in legislative races, the Democratic Party is dredging the valley’s sewers for material to use against Republican challengers Michael Roberson and Tim Williams and incumbent Sen. Barbara Cegavske, among others. It’s a repeat of the lie-fest the party used to bounce Joe Heck and Bob Beers from the Senate in 2008.

Republicans who support the Second Amendment are alleged to favor allowing gun sales to felons. Pro-life Republicans are alleged to oppose birth control and support investigations of women who suffer miscarriages. Blatant lies. With more on the way.

How did we get here? The information age is partly to blame. Voters are exposed to so much media that campaigns must figure they can’t keep track of the truth. Meanwhile, the 24-7 news cycle rushes campaigns to respond to attacks and manage blunders. In sound-bite nation, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

The most effective way to handle campaign liabilities? Lie, lie, lie. Say your opponent is lying. And when the media call you on it, lie some more.

Mandate madness

If Rep. Dina Titus can hold off Joe Heck in their 3rd Congressional District race, it will be rock-solid proof that health insurance mandates are a winning issue for Democrats — and that fighting mandates is a losing issue for Republicans.

Democrats love requiring insurers to cover everything from vaccinations to cancer screenings to in-vitro fertilization, even though every mandate increases premium and care costs by artificially boosting demand.

Heck, like most Republicans, opposes coverage mandates. The best way to reduce premium costs is to eliminate state mandates, thereby allowing consumers to buy policies that best fit their needs and pay out of their own pockets for routine and preventive care. Heck voted against some mandates during his only term as a Nevada state senator. But Heck’s vote against a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer is being used against him. Titus and her proxies are hammering Heck by saying he’s against vaccinating women, when he’s merely against the vaccine mandate.

It’s a distinction that requires too much explanation to fit in an ad. Mandate votes allow Democrats to appear compassionate and concerned about the health of voters, while Republicans come across as mean allies of hated insurance companies.

A Titus win in this anti-Democrat, anti-incumbent cycle will serve as a warning to Republicans everywhere: vote against mandates, kiss your re-election chances goodbye.

Which means even higher health care costs for everyone.

Ballot language

Ballot Questions 3 and 5 might as well be written in Greek. Neither says what voters are really voting on.

Question 3 asks: “Shall the Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955 be amended to authorize the Legislature to amend or repeal any provision of this Act? …”

It should read: “Do you want to pay Nevada sales taxes on your Internet purchases?”

Voters overwhelmingly rejected essentially the same question in 2008. Federal law prohibits states from forcing websites to collect sales taxes on most transactions. Approval of Question 3 would allow the Legislature to impose those sales taxes on Internet sellers, should Congress ever give states that authority, rather than wait for voter approval.

Question 5, which is a non-binding, advisory proposition, asks: “Shall the consent of the governing body of the local government be required before the State Legislature can act to decrease revenues or reserves? …”

It should read: “Do you want to preserve unsustainable salaries and benefits for unionized local government workers?”

City and county officials throughout Nevada are worried the 2011 Legislature will raid their treasuries to balance the state’s budget, grabbing so much money that union pay scales would have to be dialed back to avert laying off half their employees.

Local governments are paying the price today for decades of fiscal irresponsibility. Rather than cut salaries and outsource the operations of overpaid departments, officials are freezing salaries and cutting back on services. It’s a raw deal for taxpayers.

Approval of Question 5 amounts to a declaration of support for the councils and commissions that gave the unions unjustifiably high pay raises year after year, and invites the Legislature to raise your state taxes even higher. A rejection of Question 5 might help bring about a much-needed correction in local government compensation.

Glenn Cook ( is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

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