I’m going to say it because few writers will. People who steal elections or buy elections should be strung up by their intestines … and the people who fall for such tactics (or comply with people who employ these means of getting selected) should be forced to follow. Why? Watch “The Last Campaign” and you’ll understand.
I am a political junkie. I had actually read about Warren McGraw’s 2004 West Virginia Supreme Court re-election campaign before I watched Wayne Ewing’s excellent documentary on the subject. The race he was in was considered to be one of the nastiest in the country, and it was the most expensive judicial race in all of American history. Incumbent McGraw wasn’t the reason it cost so much, though. Big business actually pumped money into his opponent’s campaign in an effort to buy the court (for reasons clearly defined in the film), and a smear campaign began in full force. (Something similar happened in the county in which I reside with the district attorney and a recall election financed in large part by big business, so I’m no stranger to these types of elections.) This tactic wasn’t limited to West Virginia, either. It had been used all over the country in order to stack the courts. Its mastermind? Karl Rove.
The crux of this film is McGraw’s old fashioned attempts to win a race against a candidate who has millions of dollars at his disposal. McGraw hits the road and shakes hand … just like he did in the 1970s when he ran for the Senate. Meanwhile, his opposition puts attack ads on the air that paint McGraw as nothing but an “activist” judge who lets child molesters go free and loosens drunk driving restrictions. In other words, he is dangerous for your kids. (Here’s a hint that a candidate has nothing to offer: He or she claims the opponent will somehow harm children.) What the movie really comes down to, however, is whether or not the state of West Virginia is up for sale.
If you followed this race, you know how it turned out. The result is important, but what is more important is how the race was run.
Ewing’s film shows just how tough it is for honest candidates to go up against a clandestine aggressionskrieg waged by people who would rather remain faceless and unaccountable. If you believe in democracy, you’ll be disgusted by what you see. If, however, you believe democracy is better served by misleading people, smearing reputations and stealing elections, then you’ll be mildly amused. You can chuckle in a smug manner as McGraw wonders how he’ll fight an ad campaign of lies and skewed statistics. You can pat yourself on the back as you watch real democracy take a back seat to dirty tricks meant to fool the people the candidates should be serving.
Count me among the disgusted.