Soft Bigotry of Campaign Expectations
The phrase "soft bigotry of low expectations" explains today's commonly accepted rules of engagement in political warfare. In this context, however, it has nothing to do with differences based on race or income level that was the phrase's original intent -- but simply whether the candidates have a (D) or an (R) after their name.
The reality is that Democrats are not held to the same high standards as Republicans, not only in regard to their character or record, but also in their campaigning. The mainstream media is the referee and cheerleader in this contrived and low set of Democrat campaign expectations, and Republicans play along.
As a very recent example, consider the following scenario:
Candidate A regularly used and sold an illegal drug while in college, according to a former college acquaintance who spilled the beans to Candidate B's campaign operatives.
So what is the media response to this accusation? This line published in a column on the subject (which included no hint that any investigation by any media outlet would be conducted to determine the truth of the allegation):
They don't want their candidate smeared with this type of activity.
Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances, except for one thing: that statement referred not to Candidate A, the drug user/dealer, but to his opponent, Candidate B. Now guess which one had the (D) behind his name and which one the (R)?
That actual statement appeared in several media reports, and referred to Candidate B, the Republican. Instead of the Democrat former drug dealer being "smeared," the innocent Republican had to distance himself from the allegations in order to avoid his own smearing.
The story is that Obama used and sold cocaine while in college. (Hey, isn't that a felony?) The Romney camp is apparently avoiding the story to keep Romney from being smeared. It also appears that the story won't go anywhere with any Romney surrogates, either, since campaign officials refused to talk to the witness.
The Daily Caller mentioned the story -- not as an issue that it was investigating, but rather in addressing speculation as to the nature of Donald Trump's touted Obama October surprise. Innocence or guilt, or consideration of whether voters have the right to know the facts or evaluate the relevance of the issue obviously matters less than political party affiliation.
So we have no idea whether the allegations might be true or the whistle-blower trustworthy -- but we can speculate that he or she might be at least as reliable as Harry Reid's Bain Capital investor who had personal knowledge of Romney's personal tax returns.
Doubtless, the mainstream media will simply ignore the allegations against Obama. And if any Republican, anywhere, brings it up, he will probably be called racist or a "right-wing extremist" and a clever word will be coined -- like "birthers" or "transcripters." Media name-calling may not break any bones, but it certainly shuts up the opposition.
But Democrats are allowed, and frankly, expected, to call the opposition "felons," reap the benefits when opponents' personal records are unsealed, accept foreign donations, and produce campaign commercials showing Republicans pushing wheelchair-bound grannies off cliffs. JournoLists help spread lies and false rumors and sifted through candidate's garbage cans and e-mails.
Republicans will affirm that they abide with these low expectations because they don't want to be drawn into the fray and potentially turn off undecided voters. If we had a fair and balanced media doing actual investigating, reporting, and unbiased fact-checking, such an approach might work. But we don't, and so end up like the nerd in the hallway getting pelted with spitballs by the class bully. The nerd usually ends up looking like a weak, spitball-covered loser instead of the hero he may be on the inside. Many onlookers then side with the bully to avoid the possibility of becoming targets themselves. How many people do you know who in the 2008 election simply asserted "Sarah Palin is dumb" and, when asked why, could offer no rational basis to defend that conclusion? But when these supposedly smart people parroted what they heard in the media, they were immediately welcomed into the arms of the juvenile-minded in-crowd.
Any grown-up knows that when a child consistently gets away with bad behavior, more bad behavior results. In fact, it snowballs and then ices over to become the new normal. Rarely does an epiphany or an admission of guilt come about without a confrontation. The response usually begins with something like "You never objected before -- why now?" or "You're so mean" or "You hate me!" So wise parents must choose their camel-back-breaking straws carefully.
In the last presidential debate, many of us hoped to see Romney choose a battle and fight. He had many winning arguments to select. But instead, Romney appeared as the patient grown-up and Obama a petulant child. Obama even taunted Romney with verbal spitballs and a game of Battleship, but Romney refused to play along.
Following that debate, conservative pundit Ann Coulter tweeted: "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind & gentle to the retard." Did Romney choose that debate tactic because he (like Coulter, apparently) accepted the soft bigotry of low campaign expectations?
While our nation seems to expect and then allows liberals to play childish and dirty politics, conversely, conservatives hold each other to the highest of expectations. Not only do Republicans engage in numerous public and sometimes nasty debates during the primaries, but conservatives also tell on each other. Liberals, though, cover for each other -- openly colluding, hiding tapes, and burying the stories. The only time liberals throw each other under the bus is when it's politically expedient, and even then, the media goes along to help mitigate and "BenSmith" the damage; and if they're especially clever, they turn the bus against the GOP.
In addition, we've all become such good sports at accepting low expectations for Democrat campaigning and unrealistically high ones for Republicans -- that any Republican's misstep, no matter how small, is immediately pounced upon as hypocrisy, ignorance, or hate. Joe Biden gets away with constant gaffes, while Todd Akin felt the repercussions of expectation bias when the Republican establishment joined the media's attacks and turned its back on him.
Although Obama often campaigns about "fairness" -- that "everybody plays by the same set of rules" -- no one wants to acknowledge that campaigning is anything but fair. If conservatives point it out, even without a particular bone to pick and instead calling for more transparency or changing the status quo, they're accused of whining.
Republicans are routinely called nearly everything else, so we shouldn't object to being called whiners. At times, challenges are necessary. We need to see Republican leadership stand up for truth instead of lying down in an arena defined by a biased mainstream media. When the media constantly portrays the villain as the hero, it becomes a battle to merely set the record straight.
Of course, we must choose our battles carefully. Clear, decisive, and large victories mean much more than small wins involving silly and insignificant issues. But we must also not be guilty of low expectation bias. Elections may be won that way, but once low expectations infect the electorate to the tipping point, the grown-up soul of our nation will be lost.
The next time you see the hypocrisy of the left in its campaign tactics, don't join in the soft bigotry of low expectations. Reject the glaring double standard and point it out, because the media certainly won't.