What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

Agree? Disagree? Tell me

My Other Blog

Monday, October 22, 2012

Not being a lawyer or having any particular legal knowledge, I’ve been searching the Internet to learn about our libel and slander laws. I know we have them but I find it difficult to understand how and when they can be used by those claiming that they’ve been libeled or slandered and what it takes to achieve a successful outcome. I wasn’t particularly interested in the general description of the laws - just in whether they could be or ever are applied to what politicians say or write about opponents during elections. What I found was pretty disturbing to put it mildly.

Members of Congress can’t be sued for anything they say in the House or Senate. As far as I’ve been able to determine they can lie with impunity about anything or anyone and they’re protected from legal action as long as they’re speaking in their official capacity. What they or Congressional wannabes can say without consequence during national elections is not that clear. Campaign opponents do occasionally sue each other for libel or slander or defamation of character but it’s hard to find them or their outcomes on the Internet. It would seem that in most political campaigns for national office, the privileges of protection for things said in the halls of Congress extend to those seeking reelection and their opponents. It’s a conclusion one has to reach because or what we see and hear on television and radio every day during the campaign season.

Anyone following only the media advertising of the candidates in this election would have to conclude that those representing us and wishing to represent us in Congress, particularly in the House, are thieves, scoundrels, villains and generally a bunch of blackguards who would only do us harm if elected or reelected to Congress. I don’t have the time or the patience to list the hundreds if not thousands of examples that are permeating the air waves, but I’ll describe the attack ads of one Illinois race that likely typifies what is going on around the country.

The newly drawn eleventh district of Illinois pits 13th district incumbent Judy Biggert against Bill Foster a former incumbent who represented the 14th district for one term ending in January, 2011. According to the campaign advertising of these two opponents, neither should be allowed within one mile of the DC Beltway. Foster, a physicist and highly successful business man sent jobs to China according to a Biggert ad. Foster runs ads saying that he creates jobs and competes with China. But Biggert, he says, awards companies that send jobs to China. Foster, on the other hand, got an inside briefing in Congress just before the bottom fell out of the stock market and sold stocks before prices fell. This of course according to Biggert or whoever is running this ad, who was also in Congress at the same time - so how come she didn’t get the same inside briefing? (Actually, National Republicans admit that they have no proof of this allegation. They just go ahead and allege it anyway.) Foster says Biggert voted for the Ryan budget which gives big tax breaks to millionaires and will probably kill Medicare. And Biggert says…well you get the idea. Distortion after distortion and lie after lie.

These people know they are lying about each other - but nobody sues anybody. It’s the way our politicians try to persuade us to vote for them because the other guy or gal is a monster who should really be in jail. And what does this say about how they regard American voters and what does it say about voters themselves? It would seem to me that neither of these people or any politician who runs attack ads full of lies and distortions, has any respect for voters - or at least the voters at whom these ads are aimed - so called "low information" voters. Who else could they be aimed at? Of course a lot of thoughtful voters throw their support to these candidates in spite of the attack advertising. We just wish there was some way they could campaign without using these horrible methods. It’s not going to happen of course because these attack ads work. Maybe even on some of us who don’t think of ourselves as low information - and that’s a horrible thought.

Another reason that we’re not likely to see an end to this kind of campaigning is that there is no apparent fear of repercussions. You can accuse your opponent of being a terrorist sympathizer or a devil worshiper and the chances of such accusations becoming the basis for a law suit seem to be slim and none. In the world populated by the rest of us, attacks of this nature would have the courts struggling to keep up just with the paperwork. You have to wonder how we ever allowed our political system to sink this low - to allow our politicians to do what the rest of us could never do without serious consequences.

Across the pond they have a more rational way of dealing with politicians who lie about their opponents. They have something called the Representation of the People ACT 1983 which makes lying about a political opponent illegal. It doesn’t happen often but a couple of years ago, a cabinet minister was kicked out of Parliament for just that reason. Can you imagine the effect if such a law was to be applied here? We wouldn’t be able to elect anyone. But what the lack of such a law here - or even some reasonable voluntary code of conduct for election campaigning says about us is that we are incapable of having honest elections. There must be lies - and that’s as sad a statement as may ever be posted here.