A Thousand Points of Blight: Lindsey Graham and the McSmear Campaign

05/25/2011 12:35 pm ET

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Olin Graham looks like a munchkin. He's a cute little feller and a good Christian. A Southern Baptist. He's a soft-spoken diminutive guy and has been nominally bearable to South Carolina progressives for at least being supportive of a woman's reproductive rights in the cases of rape, incest or impending death. That's a fairly "God-hatin' liberal" position to take in the fundamentalist red zone. It beats the Draconian "Never, ever" espoused by Hagee, Parsley, Robertson, Dobson, et al--and by the new, improved "Okay, okay! I'll-say-never-if-you'll-vote-for-me" John McCain.

Lindsey wants to be a kinder, gentler right-winger. Really he does. He doesn't want to talk about which church Barack Obama attends, he says, and, as we say down here in the Deep South, "That's mighty white of him."

Graham threw his support, pitiful as it proved to be, behind John McCain way back in 2000. Believe me, I appreciated that. After Dubbya's humiliation in the 2000 New Hampshire primary (Daddy and all those cronies said he had it in the bag!), George W., Karl Rove, Ralph Reed and former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon, among others, had a nasty little surprise waiting for the Straight Talk Express Guy when the bus got to the Palmetto State. They weren't about to lose gracefully, and the "Would you still vote for John McCain if you knew he'd fathered an illegitimate black baby" push-polling campaign swept the state. I'm here to tell you, down here in Jim Crow Heaven, the notion of hanky panky with a black woman worked like a charm. Or a fetish, as the case might be. It was the most offensive campaign I can ever remember.

Born-again Bush's unsaintly racist smear-fest was intolerable. Add to that, after listening to him mangle the King's English, geography and who led which foreign country, I had arrived at the following conclusions: George W. was a) incapable of pronouncing the word nuclear, b) intellectually challenged, c) apt to become the worst president in U.S. history and d) willing to say anything to win. Oh-- and e) I did NOT want a president I could have a beer with. I wanted one I could be certain was smarter than I was.

So, I wasn't willing to settle for Bush. While I knew I'd vote Gore in the general election, I recruited as many people as I could cram into a '96 Dodge Caravan and headed for the polls on the day of the GOP primary. We would vote, en masse, for McCain. It was a sad, benighted attempt to stop George W. Bush and his cronies in their tracks. McCain scared me a little, but I thought I could live with it if he won the White House. He wasn't a rabid right-winger and it was patently obvious he was a lot smarter than the Republican alternative. The 2000 version of John McCain was no panderer to the religious right fringe, no neocon ideologue.

He is one now. And he's still got kinder, gentler Lindsey Graham at his side. Or skittering after him like a needy little lap dog. Take your pick.

He likes to call Graham the "Little Jerk." Lindsey says he doesn't mind--he says, in fact, that Friend John has "called him worse." I don't doubt it a bit. Lindsey's a lucky guy when you consider what McCain is willing to call his wife when he's in a snit about how thin his hair is getting.

No matter. McCain, an honorable Vietnam vet, a certified war hero, has promised us an honorable campaign this time around. He suffered the collapse of a credible bid for the White House after being smeared all the way from South Carolina to Michigan and back. He was justifiably enraged, saying, after Campaign 2000, there is "a special place in hell for rumormongers." And he meant that thing. At the time. I'm sure.

Given that dark history (no pun intended), we trusted that Campaign 2008 would be an enlightened one, issue-oriented and clean as a whistle. After all, the choice between John McCain and Barack Obama could hardly be a more dramatically different one. War or peace? Women's reproductive rights sacrificed or protected? Tax cuts extended for Bush's pet neo-aristocracy or ended in favor of really lower taxes for the middle- and working classes? An unregulated, free market, unaffordable health care system or a humane system available and affordable to every American? A hand-out corporate subsidy welfare program or a hand-up for "the least of these"? The haves or the have-nots? Who needs a Bush/Rovian character assassination? No honorable candidate would play the smear game anyway. And neither would a soft-spoken, decent Christian guy from South Carolina.

Or not.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Most Honorable Senator Lindsey Olin Graham (R-SC):


POW! ZAP! ARRGH! Holy South Carolina 2000, Batman!

This is the "Honor Among Candidates" campaign?

Now the story gets really personal. My husband is a decorated Vietnam vet. No National Guard JAG, no pilot who never saw the bloody civilian end result of the bullet, the bomb, the mine. His experience was all of 1968, boots on the ground, in I Corps. When we met in Honolulu in September of '68, he had two dozen festering ringworms on his back and suffered shrieking nightmares. His Bronze Star (despite the attempt to cheapen it by the Kerry GOP Swift Boaters in 2004) hangs, nicely mounted and framed, in our den. He became an Obama supporter, no matter where he ran for office, in 2002 when he heard the young senator from Illinois speak out against Bush's war plans. He had suffered through Vietnam, he said, and he knew another smarmy bill of goods when he saw one peddled by a White House bent on going to war with no sound basis for the bloodshed.

This South Carolina vet wrote Lindsey Graham an angry letter. He had not, he told Senator Graham, sacrificed, served his country during wartime, so a politician would have the freedom to pose for a photograph clearly intended to reinforce rumors and lies. My husband demanded an apology. A public apology.

He got an answer to that letter in September, 2007. Here it is, in full:

Dear Dennis:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the photograph of me holding an inappropriate sign. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from you.

On July 27, 2007, I was photographed at a rally with a sign regarding Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I was handed that sign by a rally attendee as I was leaving, and I did not read it before the picture was taken. I should have been more careful, and I apologize. While I strongly disagree with Senators Obama and Clinton on many issues, I respect them as Senators and would never knowingly disparage them.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write. Please do not hesitate to contact me again if I may be of further assistance to you or your family.


Lindsey O. Graham
United States Senator

I can't tell you how deeply moved the Hansen family was by this response.

First: We never saw any public acknowledgement of or apology for a lousy, smear mongering photo-op in which one of our senators is grinning like he's one watermeoln shy of a truckload. And please note the "McCain for President" poster in his left hand. An endorsement for bad behavior? A hint of what was to come?

Second: Graham recycled the same "Oops!" defense Mitt Romney had already worn out. It didn't ring true, and that would make him a bit of a fibber. If it were true, then Lindsey Graham is a doddering fool who's willing to pose with anything handed him at a rally without first having a look at what it is. Either way, we lose. Which is preferable representing us in the U.S. Senate? A liar or a fool?

As to his closing line--God forbid he is of any "further assistance" to this family. He's done enough damage down here. It's mighty hard to unring the "Osama/Obama" bell in a state with a few too many uber-conservatives who aren't all that comfortable with folks who are "different." If you get my drift. Graham knew that when he preened and posed with that toxic poster.

His latest little misrepresentation of the truth was a remark made to George Stephanopoulos. Graham accused Barack Obama of "borrowing" money from Tony Rezko "to build his house" in Chicago. It sounded like some shady wheeling and dealing. The truth? The Obamas bought an existing, older home with a mortgage through the Northern Trust Company.

We have yet to see how low he'll go in shilling for the McCain campaign. Lindsey clings to McCain like a simpering spinster does her last beau before menopause sets in. Maybe it's the macho thing. Graham hopes some of the swaggering McTough Guy Musk will rub off on him. Instant machismo. Fat chance. McCain's pet name for Lindsey, remember, is "Little Jerk".

Sadly, Senator Graham doesn't mind the mini-smear. Judging by the poster, the lame excuse and the suggestion that Senator Obama's house was bought with dirty money, it fits.