Friday, October 10, 2008

First Amendment, Slander, and Campaign Politics

Like many of us who are following the campaign for the White House, I have keenly followed the attacks and the responses by each camp. During this campaign, unfortunately like most others, I've heard a number of claims being made, bad facts, slanted truths, and outright lies aimed directly at Senator Obama, his associations, his record, and his intentions.

While most of this is campaign "business as usual" I can't help but wonder how this squares up with the first amendment and the laws regarding slander. Wikipedia's entry defines slander, "In law, defamation (also called calumny, libel, slander, and vilification) is the communication of a statement that makes a false claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government or nation a negative image."

Let's take McCain's recent attack on Obama claiming a connection to famed 1960's Weather Underground radical Bill Ayer. The allegations that Obama "ran a radical 'education' foundation" with Ayer have been found to be misleading and false. While hateful speech can be protected by our First Amendment, outright lies that attempt to smear another individual seem to fall squarely in the realm of slander.

So how do campaigns get away with this? I've done a bit a research and have failed to find any lawsuits brought against candidates seeking the office of president for smear tactics. While a lawsuit is probably the worst campaign strategy, it would be interesting to see a lawsuit post election day. I suppose at that point the winner has too much to lose and the loser has already lost the election.

Meanwhile the McCain campaign attempts to quell the raging fires it has lit over the past week. "If you want a fight, we will fight," McCain said. "But we will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments." I am less angry as I am fearful at the ease in which McCain's base has taken his lies into a place of violent fervor.

Perhaps at the end of the day, the public has become numb to the dishonesty of American politics. I, however, would love to see a little justice served.