Manassas Journal Messenger | Critiquing the propaganda wars I – letters and signs

The campaign season now holding us by our collective throat provides a panoply of examples of both hypocrisy and inconsistency. Voters are inundated every day by the signs of the season, along the highways and in their mailboxes.

On this page, many writers offer little more than platitudinous irrelevancies. They tout a long list of so-called public service credentials for the candidate they endorse. Many simply mean that the candidates have friends in high places, or have joined the right clubs. Yet they remain ever popular among an electorate caring less about what you are than what you believe, and politicians who fear, above all, the risky proposition of taking a stand.

Even those rare writers who offer more than platitudes in favor of their candidate are attempting to rewrite history.

An interesting example appeared on Monday on this page, where a writer, after offering the usual platitudes, called Coles District Republican nominee Marty Nohe “an active opponent of the 2002 sales tax increase referendum.” Since the writer was once Dumfries District Magisterial District Chairman for the county Republican Committee (where Nohe lived until recently), I can only believe that his letter was a misprint, since he could only have been referring to Nohe’s active opposition to having the county Republican Committee take a position against the sales tax increase. To be fair, Nohe didn’t endorse the increase. But to call him an “active opponent” of it is simply wrong. He actively discouraged Republican leadership against it.

Then there’s the signs. Of course, there are those who will condemn the “popsicle” signs sprouting likes weeds at every intersection. Never mind that their criticisms never manifest themselves until the political season, revealing their complaints to be hatred of this core, First-Amendment-protected activity. And never mind that politicians are among the few who actually clean up their messes. And be sure to forget those critics who limit their complaints to their political opponents, ignoring misdeeds by their political allies.

And give credit where credit is due: Democrat Sheriff Lee Stoffregen performed a valuable public service early in the campaign season when he took out a full-page ad opposite this page rebutting the multiple criticisms frequenting these pages. For all of his flaws, he performed a service valuable to all of his fellow candidates.

Nevertheless, one cannot help but laugh – and sometimes, cry – at some of the things one sees along the highways. There’s the poor Dumfries school board candidate, for example, whose name is unreadable on his black and red signs. Dumfries Democrat Davon Gray promises to “STOP GROWTH!” and, by God, having lived through the Carter presidency, I believe him.

Then there’s Democrat Rick Coplen, who used to grace this page as a columnist. Word among GOP activists at the time was that he was a protege of Neabsco Democrat Supervisor John Jenkins, seeking to increase his name recognition prior to his run for public office. And sure enough, he’s challenging Republican incumbent Sean Connaughton for chairman of the board of county supervisors.

So I nearly drove off the road when I saw the Coplen sign declaring “LOWER TAXES!”

Who is he trying to kid? He must be more pessimistic about this journal’s circulation than I, as his most distinguishing characteristic during his tenure was his frequent advocacy of higher taxes. Either that, or he’s going for the new resident vote, counting on the electorate’s ignorance about his record.

It’s not as though Connaughton has a perfect record on taxes. Like his opponent, he joined the chorus endorsing last year’s sales tax increase referendum. County property owners have experienced a marked increase in their property tax bills during the last four years, borne of rising housing values, occurring broadly in the metropolitan Washington area. That increase has only been tempered by the fact that Connaughton’s board – having inherited the highest property tax rates in the Commonwealth – has markedly lowered rates. It has not been tempered enough owing to the spending spree allowed by Connaughton on his watch.

Moreover, anyone paying attention to the Democrat’s broader agenda recognizes that it would boost county spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, requiring higher tax rates. What a huge surprise.

Coles District school board candidate Marilyn Blakely’s signs promise “Putting Children Above Politics.” But she puts a union “bug” on her signs, indicating production by union labor specifically and sympathy with the agenda of the AFL-CIO and the teachers’ unions generally. And she is endorsed by the Prince William Education Association. Children above politics? Blakely is steeped in politics. Of course, it’s difficult to believe that there is any aspiring officeholder who is disinterested in “politics,” as though “politics” – the method by which we determine how we govern ourselves – were a bad thing.

And then there’s Democrat David Brickley, attempting to displace Republican Delegate Scott Lingamfelter. Brickley’s signs advertise “Mainstream Leadership.” Yeah, right.? Brickley voted for or otherwise supported virtually billions of dollars in tax increases over his tenure in the House of Delegates, and likewise sponsored a bill to constitutionalize abortion on demand. Mainstream? Hardly. His green signs perhaps indicate his continuing interest in collecting your green.

And maybe I just don’t get it. There are quite a few around who purport to hate “labels.” Never mind if they’re accurate descriptions of politicians’ agendas. But we’ve seen not a peep of complaint against Brickley’s self-applied label. If “labels” are bad in general, then it should be condemned as such. But it’s not only a label; it’s inaccurate, too. Or are those who rail against “labels” hypocritically attacking their political opponents with appeals to objective criteria abandoned when convenient?

The propaganda wars will continue unabated until Election Day. But a respite is promised; at least, after Election Day, the politicians will remove their signs. Try to remember the last time you saw a builder’s representative cleaning up the highway “popsicles.”

An attorney, Young lives with his wife and their two sons in Montclair.

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