Like it or not, dirty tricks have always been part of campaigns, and for one simple reason -- because they work. We'd like to believe differently, but the truth is that campaigns aren't won because of ideals or powerful speeches or the better candidate; they're street fights in which you do anything and everything you can to win.
It's a zero-sum game, and when I was a Republican campaign manager -- at least until I was incarcerated for crossing the line -- my job was to make two plus two add up to whatever it needed to be to get my candidate elected.
When a congressional campaign I once managed accepted a contribution from a donor who potentially could have opened the campaign to a charge of graft, we decided that the best solution was not to give the money back (it is so hard to raise money; you should never give it back). Instead, we had the same questionable donor slip a small donation (so small that it would go unnoticed) to our opponent's campaign -- one that would be disclosed along with hundreds of others in the campaign's Federal Election Commission disclosure reports. Then, when the expected attack against us materialized, I made it into a double-edged sword that caused more damage to our opponent. Two plus two added up to the hypocrisy of the accuser.
Race has long been a hot-button issue in American politics, and I am no stranger to pushing that button. A dirty trick I helped make happen for a Republican client was to use a recording of a strongly accented, urban black male voice to deliver a positive message about the Democratic candidate to white households in the weeks before election day. Our intention was to disincline Democratic voters from supporting their candidate.
Sen. John McCain was the target of the same strain of dirty tricks in South Carolina in 2000, when it was implied that he was the father of an illegitimate biracial child. This year, he was accused of being a traitor to his country, a "Hanoi Hilton songbird." Both attacks were made to derail his campaign. The 2000 dirty trick was successful.
If you think Democrats are above such tactics, you're wrong. A debate about race is exactly what the Clintons wanted going into Super Tuesday. When President Clinton said, "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84.... And Obama ran a good campaign here," he not only was trying to reduce Sen. Barack Obama to "the black candidate," he also was reminding Jewish voters of when Jackson called New York City "Hymietown."
The Clintons want to slow down Obama going into the decisive primaries Tuesday, and dividing the electorate along racial lines has a proven track record. It may be dirty, but is the problem with the system and people who manipulate it, or with the voters who allow themselves to be manipulated?
I was sent to prison for jamming the phone lines at Democratic headquarters in the 2002 New Hampshire general election, at the direction of an official from the Republican National Committee.
We shut down the Democratic Party's election-day phone bank so no phone calls could go in or out. That was a dirty trick and a crime, and I was punished. Good laws are in place to deter people from crossing the line.
But no law can ever prevent the basic dirty tricks that win elections. Someone will always be up to no good. What really needs to happen is for voters to learn how campaign operatives use demographics to manipulate them and lead them down a predetermined path. Knowing how the machine works would give them the ability to pause and decide if the choices they make at the ballot box are merely reactionary or are truly in their best interest.
Most voters are led by the nose to the voting booth still convinced their ballot is cast of free will. What they really need to ask themselves is not, "What's wrong with the system?" but instead, "What am I going to do about it?"
Allen Raymond is the author of "How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative."