Op-Ed

Political attack ads say plenty about the attackers

Democratic party staffer confronted outside Andy Barr fundraiser

A Kentucky Democratic Party staffer was forcibly chased from a sidewalk outside a Lexington fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington.
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A Kentucky Democratic Party staffer was forcibly chased from a sidewalk outside a Lexington fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington.

The advertising season that everyone hates has arrived. If you aren’t ready to throw a shoe at your TV by Nov. 6, you will no doubt have worn out your mute button to silence all the nasty political attack ads.

But don’t stop paying attention, because those ads often tell you as much about the character of the candidates throwing stones — and their slimy tactics, such as stalking — as they do about the opponents being pelted.

Negative political advertising has been part of American politics since our earliest days as a nation. Mudslinging, ad hominem attacks, dirty tricks, gaslighting, photographing an unflattering look and furtive or underhanded efforts to catch candidates making statements that can be used against them, or worse, that can be clipped and used out of context, are all tools of the trade.

That should not be mistaken with honestly critiquing a candidate’s positions and votes on particular policies, because that kind of advertising highlights significant differences between candidates, and is not mudslinging.

Last week, a well-known Lexington citizen displayed his ugly side when he confronted a worker of the Kentucky Democratic Party on the public sidewalk in front of his home prior to a fundraising party for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. It was an encounter that bordered on assault of the Democratic operative, an action for which I was glad to see he later apologized.

The individual who was threatened was engaged in what is euphemistically called “tracking.” Tracking, or more accurately, stalking a candidate by the opposite party’s staff of volunteers represents a particularly repulsive political tactic. The aim is to gain photographs, video material or statements that can be used — usually out of context — against the opposing candidate. It is a particularly underhanded and morally questionable political tactic no matter which political party or candidate engages in it.

In my campaign against Barr, he sent a 17-year-old high school student with very expensive video and recording equipment to stalk me. The student said he was told to tell me an outright lie: He said he was working on a school project in a government class.

What I found morally repugnant was the fact that the Barr campaign taught a child that lying in politics is justified, that the ends justified the dishonest means. On another occasion, a recent college graduate also lied to me, saying she was working on a paper for one of her classes. I later found her photo on Barr’s campaign page listing her as a political intern.

Dishonesty and lies in politics are immoral and, along with dark money, are at the heart of what is destroying our democracy.

One of the things that make me proud of my campaign as the Democratic candidate for Kentucky’s 6th District in 2016 is the expressions of appreciation for the way we ran the campaign in a positive manner without attack ads. Many younger voters said to me, “You made us feel that politics could be decent again.” That was reward enough for the 80 hours a week for nearly a year that I put into that effort to unseat the incumbent.

Although I lost the election, I kept my integrity and demonstrated that politics could be decent.

Let’s elect people who are positive, who do not attack others falsely, who do not engage in dishonest campaign and advertising methods and who are transparent about the sources of their money.

The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper of Lexington was the 2016 Democratic candidate in the 6th District congressional race.

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