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Saddam, terrorist comparisons become commonplace

By Bryan Keefer (bryan@spinsanity.org)
October 25, 2002

The past two weeks have seen several examples of what has become a trend: making comparisons and references to terrorists and Saddam Hussein in order to smear political foes. While such attacks are far from the direct attempts to suppress dissent we have witnessed in the wake of September 11, 2001, the way in which such comparisons have settled into everyday politics is troubling.

Since the attacks, commentators as diverse as Andrew Sullivan, and Salon's David Talbot all compared their political foes to terrorists. These associations are mostly simple name-calling, rather than aggressive attempts to suggest that Democrats are providing "aid and comfort" to America's enemies or other such attempts to stifle dissent. With the House and Senate hanging in the balance, however, campaign season has led politicians and pundits to once more trot out such inflammatory comparisons. What was once controversial and charged has become relatively banal.

On October 13th, Senator Jean Carnahan, D-Missouri, told a group of supporters in Missouri that the White House "can't get Osama bin Laden, so they're going to get me." After an outcry from prominent Republicans, including Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot and Missouri Republican Party chairwoman Ann Wagner, Carnahan apologized for her remarks.

Then, on October 16, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, suggested during a press conference that "Americans must be wondering why it is that Al Qaeda, this ragtag bunch of terrorists scattered all over the globe, can reorganize themselves ... and the United States cannot reorganize itself. Al Qaeda doesn't have a Senate. Al Qaeda doesn't have a Senator Daschle that has another focus."

Two Republican Senate campaigns have also used references to Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda to attack their opponants. On October 13, Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, launched an ad associating Cleland with bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, which Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call described as follows:

The spot begins with a screen showing video footage of al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead," an announcer states.
The ad continues: "Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead. But the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading."

While Chambliss subsequently pulled the images of bin Laden and Hussein from the ad, it echoes another ad run by South Dakota Republican Rep. Jim Thune against incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, also of South Dakota. The ad, which includes a picture of Saddam Hussein, states in part, "Al Qaeda terrorists, Saddam Hussein, enemies of America working to obtain nuclear weapons. Now more than ever, our nation must have a missile defense system to shoot down missiles fired at America. Yet Tim Johnson has voted against a missile defense system 29 different times."

Rush Limbaugh, who has a history of associating Democratic politicians with terrorists, drew a pair of such associations on his radio show October 16, stretching across two issues. Rush used the recent Iraqi pseudo-election, in which Saddam Hussein was re-elected with 100 percent of the vote, to smear Democrats by linking the Iraq vote with campaign finance reform and the voting patterns of African-Americans [Windows Media Audio]:

Saddam Hussein gets 100 percent of the vote in a referendum in which he was the sole candidate ... You know what this is, folks, is the ultimate in campaign finance reform.
The Democrats have already established a whole lot of similarities in our election system - or they're trying to. Campaign finance reform, get rid of the ads, get rid of these special interests, get rid of the competing ideas, they can't talk about competing ideas 60 days before an election - well, we got a little ways to go there - Iraq you can't do it ever - but they got 60 days here, we're on the way. But the next thing Democrats gotta do is to figure out a legal way to keep opponents off the ballot - and they got close in New Jersey. They got close in New Jersey. And that's just a small first step. But I tell you, Democrats are studying the election over there. Terry McAuliffe may send Carville over there to actually look at the ballots, look at the polling places and see what can be done to bring that system back to the United States.

A few minutes later, he was back at it [Windows Media Audio]:

I want to draw another comparison to the Iraqi outcome and elections in this country. Saddam got 100 percent of the vote ... Al Gore in 2000 got 94 percent of the votes, of some votes. Now, if we can say that Saddam Hussein's 100 percent of the vote is a result of fear, or in Iraq's case, death, why would 94 percent of a certain group vote for Gore?
...Now in Iraq, of course, the way they do this is fear - you don't vote for Saddam and may not vote ever again, you may not even breathe ever again if you don't vote for Saddam ... How in a democracy, where nobody gets over 60 percent of the vote in the general election, how in the world do the Democrats get 94 percent of the black vote every year? Fear! And how they get whatever percentage of the senior citizens vote they get every presidential [election]? Fear! You see the similarities here my friend! You see why Carville is probably on [his] way to Iraq now to study this election - they're oh so close! Fear! The Democrats scare their voters as much - not so much about them, but about their opponent.

Limbaugh has also posted an article on his web site with pictures of Saddam Hussein and Tom Daschle captioned "Running mates 2004?"

The casual way Limbaugh and others use such attacks speaks to the fact that they have become an everyday part of our politics. Playing on the strong associations carried by the names and images of bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and Saddam, such attacks are intended to link political opposition (or, in Carnahan's case, political attacks) with hated figures and organizations in the minds of the electorate. While not direct attempts to stifle dissent, they are the lesser cousin of such attacks - vicious slurs that have become all too pervasive in the post-September 11 discourse.

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Related links:
-Spinsanity on the debate over the war on terror

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