Confusion and misinformation are two of the most powerful weapons in a desperate politician's arsenal. They were used by Joe Lieberman in the 2006 general election against Ned Lamont, and exit polls suggest that they helped Hillary Clinton blast her way through yesterday's primary in Ohio.
Over the last few weeks, Clinton has been telling Ohio voters she never supported the North American Free Trade Agreement -- an agreement that has become a symbol of corrupt economic policies to many working-class voters. Clinton has made these claims expecting everyone to forget her speeches over the last decade trumpeting NAFTA as a great success.
Her direct quotes praising NAFTA repeatedly are not up for interpretation -- and neither are her absurd claims to "have been against NAFTA from the beginning." We're talking about pure, unadulterated lying here -- and lying with a purpose: To confuse enough voters into thinking she actually did oppose NAFTA and that her strong support for NAFTA is somehow the same as Barack Obama's longtime opposition to the pact. Last night's results prove the scheme worked.
Clinton's past support of the North American Free Trade Agreement didn't hurt her in Ohio where most voters think trade with other countries has cost the state jobs. Blue-collar workers and voters who live in union households backed Clinton as did voters in northern Ohio where manufacturing job losses have been staggering the past decade, according to exit polls for The Associated Press and television networks. Clinton won nearly six in 10 votes from union households in Ohio's Democratic primary Tuesday and the same number among people who earn less than $50,000 a year.
If this all sounds familiar, that's because it is. Here's an excerpt of a 2006 article I wrote for In These Times about the Lieberman-Lamont race:
As the Associated Press confirmed, Lieberman's margin was provided by a segment of voters who are strongly against the war, but who (wrongly) believed Lieberman is strongly against the war. Their misperception was no accident. Immediately after the primary, Lieberman unleashed an ad campaign to portray himself as anti-war, airing an ad where he says to the camera "I want to help end the war in Iraq."...Lieberman won the election not by defending the Iraq War, but by successfully convincing a key segment of voters that he was anti-war...[Lamont's] internal polling showed that somewhere between 12 and 15 percent of the population said they simultaneously opposed the war and supported Lieberman's position on the war--a signal that Lieberman's confusion campaign was working.
Clinton was actually even more brazen than Lieberman. Not only did she lie about her record, she actually went on the offensive attacking Obama over the very trade deal she has long championed, "rais[ing] doubts about whether he was committed to reworking NAFTA," as the AP noted. To use the Lieberman-Lamont analogy, that's would be like Lieberman not only pretending to be against the war, but actually attacking Lamont for not opposing the war more strongly. Even Lieberman wasn't cravenly dishonest enough to do that -- but Clinton was.
The tragedy, of course, is that when such tactics are validated -- whether on the war in Connecticut or on trade in Ohio -- it encourages candidates and politicians to continue lying about the most important issues. And those lies end up polluting the debate and ultimately preventing any real change. If politicians can be rewarded for lying about their record on the war and on globalization, then they will feel emboldened to keep lying when those rhetorical debates turn into legislative negotiations.