People often lament the fact that political campaigns these days are about personalities and not issues. The trend manifests itself in the barrage of revolting political ads we've become accustomed to accusing most any modern candidate of being Hitler in waiting.
It's a big part of what drives the public's disaffection for politics and politicians. No winner emerges from a race these days unscarred by the negatives these tactics produce. Winners go into office on day one with an albatross around their necks from the personal attacks. No wonder public approval of Congress is in the teens.
But heretofore at least the smear tactics have been limited to the candidates in the race. For them, at least it can be said they know what they are getting into. But now a new trend is emerging, and we think it is an ominous development in a free society.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrats who risk being in the minority next November have adopted a dark strategy - impugning the names - and even the patriotism - of the private citizens who financially support GOP candidates and causes.
A Fox News report notes that beginning about a month ago Reid launched attacks "in earnest" on Charles and David Koch, two wealthy businessmen who have contributed millions to conservative (mostly but not always Republican) causes. Reid accused the brothers of being "un-American" and "trying to buy America" in floor speeches that began last month and continued last week. "Across the country Republican Senate candidates are embracing a dangerous agenda that's good for billionaires like the Koch brothers â ¦" Reid bloviated.
Well, yes, people who contribute to political candidates - be they large contributions or small - give money to candidates who favor policies donors believe will improve their lives. That's not illegal or unethical. Nor is it unique to GOP donors. According to the United States Supreme Court, this activity is an exercise of free speech.
The Koch brothers, who parlayed a small independent oil company into billionaire status, are reviled by Reid for helping to found Americans for Prosperity, a group that spent more than $100 million in elections in 2012. Charles Koch also helped found the Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, a think tank whose ideas about less government offend the likes of Reid.
Interestingly, Reid has not voiced like accusations of un-Americanism against Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager and billionaire, who says he will spend at least $100 million on attack ads this year against any candidates who are not apostles of the Democratic faith of climate change. No surprise there, we suppose.
But our bigger point is, it is a truly troubling development when one of the nation's most powerful elected officials uses his office to denounce as "un-American" private citizens exercising their constitutionally protected right to participate in the political process. It is an effort at intimidation; political thuggery; the stuff of banana republics, which unfortunately the Washington of today increasingly resembles.
If Reid really wants to frustrate the efforts of the Koch brothers, maybe he ought to do a little work and see if he and his candidates can come up with some political proposals that actually appeal to people, rather than running smear campaigns against law-abiding citizens.