Politics unusual: '04 is weirder and nastier

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As election years and marketing go, 2004 is proving to be an unusually odd one.

Whether this is due to the general bitterness of the presidential contest, the earlier start of the always-harsh fall campaign ad efforts, or the reach and anything-goes impact of the Web is not clear. What is clear is that there are enough strange marketing messages flying about to suggest an outbreak of a new ailment we might think of as Political Oddity Resource Syndrome.

Consider:

* Vernon Robinson. The ultra-conservative African-American candidate, who last week lost a bid for the GOP nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Richard Burr, was running TV and radio ads so raw in their criticism of African-Americans and speakers of Spanish that they triggered charges he was a racist demagogue.

His Web site proudly headlined a newspaper's suggestion that he was a black Jesse Helms, North Carolina's former ultra-conservative senator. One of his ad deadpanned, "Vernon Robinson will tell all of America what he tells his own three children: Stay in school. Speak English. And get a job! Don't have children out of wedlock, don't take drugs, don't commit crime, and if you do, don't pull a Jesse Jackson and blame it on Whitey."

A virulently anti-Hispanic-immigration radio ad was set to the music of "The Twilight Zone" with a voice-over saying, "The aliens are here, but they didn't come in a spaceship. They've filled our criminal courtrooms and clogged our schools ... They sponge off the American taxpayer ..."

Mr. Robinson lost the congressional runoff election, getting 45% of the vote to his opponent's 55%.

* Whack-a-Bush Game. President Bush is the subject of one of the season's nastier online political games called "Whack a Bush." It depicts Mr. Bush cutting down trees with a chain saw, dropping barrels of oil in the ocean and popping out of factory smokestacks marked "Poison" and "OK."

The Environment 2004 Political Action Committee launched the game at whackabush.com. The object is to repeatedly hit a cartoon President Bush over the head with a newspaper as he pops up doing the anti-environmental things the group alleges him to be guilty of. The game was produced by @dvocacy., headed by former Juno Advocacy Network executive Roger Alan Stone.

The Bush campaign had no comment.

* The Michael Moore Offensive. Republicans have turned a battery of whacking artillery on director Michael Moore, who, most would agree, is gleefully guilty of being one of Mr. Bush's most vitriolic public foes. Mr. Moore is the director who used the Academy Awards ceremony to denounce the Bush administration even before producing the documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," a scathing attack on the President's handling of Sept. 11 and the current Iraq war.

During the Democratic National Convention, the Republican National Committee bombarded the press corps with 10 "research briefings" about Mr. Moore. Those 10 papers each included a past quote from Mr. Moore and a suggestion that reporters press Sen. Kerry to address each of the specific comments.

Among the alleged comments were: Michael Moore argued that bin Laden was innocent until proven guilty; he said there is no terrorist threat in this country; he said Americans are possibly the dumbest people on earth; he downplayed the threat posed by the death of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Another allegation said organizations linked to Hezbollah offered to distribute Michael Moore's film in the Middle East.

* Jesus and the Death Penalty. Speaking of Mr. Robinson's North Carolina, an unusual campaign was launched this year to influence the state legislature to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

Supported by a six-figure ad buy, a group called the North Carolina Moratorium Now! rolled out a campaign (created by Republik, in Durham, N.C.) of radio spots and print ads featuring George Washington and Jesus Christ.

George Washington was quoted saying: "So what if a few innocent people get executed? Mistakes happen." Jesus Christ was quoted saying: "Accidentally executing innocent people is the price society has to pay for justice."

The campaign wasn't exactly successful, because legislative leaders pulled the moratorium initiative before a vote could be taken.

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