The 2008 election was historic on many counts, but one of the more significant developments was the decisive defeat of the politics of smear and fear. As the campaign wore on, and the prospects of the McCain-Palin candidacy appeared increasingly bleak, the Republicans turned to an old playbook, one that had been used to much positive effect over the last decade. In recent elections, the patriotism and good names of Democratic war hero candidates, from John Kerry to Max Cleland, had been impugned so successfully that a neologism for such smears—to “swift boat”—was coined out of the assault on Kerry. The fears that arose out of the September 11 attacks were exploited to defend a failed war of choice in Iraq, with the claims that this adventure was the “front” in the war on terrorism and that those who criticized it were “soft” on terrorism. So when Sarah Palin accused Barack Obama of “palling around with a terrorist,” and John McCain demanded the “truth” of his connections with an “old, washed-up terrorist,” they were invoking tried-and-true tactics that echoed over a century of electoral “scares” from the right, harking back to fear of turn-of-the-twentieth century anarchism and the “red scare” of the 1920s.


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pp. 107-111
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