Our tired and unoriginal 3rd District incumbent Republican congressman, Chuck Fleischmann, has adopted the ultra-right's "we-can't-trust ..." chant often aimed at the president to paint his youthful and energetic opponent with a completely deceptive message and manipulated photograph in a mailer advertisement sent out last week.
Bearing the words "Paid for by the Chuck Fleischmann for Congress Committee," the mailer depicts Weston Wamp holding a flaming cigarette lighter to a passport. The mailer reads, in part, "Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants."
The body and hands holding the lighter and passport are not Wamp's, but his head was photo-shopped onto the passport-burner's body. And Wamp has not said he supports amnesty. The quote, actually a partial quote, below the amnesty claim is also misleading.
"We need to find a pathway for them [illegal immigrants] to be legal," the mailer states. But the quote is what we intellectually honest people would call a comment taken out of context.
The entirety of what Wamp actually said during a televised debate sponsored by WTCI and the Chattanooga Times Free Press was this: "There are a lot of people who are illegally working. We need to find a pathway for them to be legal, but not citizens, but pay taxes. But unfortunately, Congress does nothing."
The mailer also prominently shows the logo of WTCI -- something that could be construed as a public television endorsement, though it is far from that. In fact, WTCI issued a news release stating emphatically that the station does not endorse campaign communications of any candidate in this or any race and "Chuck Fleischmann for Congress Committee did not seek permission to use WTCI's logo and it was not granted."
Perhaps it's fair to say, "We can't trust" Chuck Fleischmann.
Perhaps it's also fair to say that this flurry of negative ads aimed at tarring Wamp is a direct act of desperation. Fleischmann must not like what he's seeing in polls, despite the fact that he has continued to say otherwise.
The mailer comes on heels of three television ads in seven days that all go on the attack -- the low, jugular kind of attack -- against Wamp, who so far has kept his ads civil and upbeat.
John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political science professor and expert on negative ads, agrees that Fleischmann's use of the spots "usually ... is a sign that Wamp is somebody he's worried about. ... They [the Fleischmann camp] may have some polling saying, 'We got to stop this or it's going to get bad.' "
The first was another takeoff on immigration that swaps views back and forth from President Barack Obama to Wamp while intoning: "Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants who flout our laws and won't demand action from President Obama to secure our borders. On the immigration crisis, we can't trust Weston Wamp."
The second ad seeks to label Wamp a show horse and Fleischmann a work horse. The spot says "some guys talk about why they're so great ... and do silly things to get attention," and shows black and white images of Wamp and pictures of an RV he campaigns in. "These sort of fellows are show horses," the announcer continues as the ad displays an image of horses on a plastic carousel.
No wonder so many of us are disgusted and don't like politics. But if Wamp does sink to Fleischmann's juvenile level, perhaps he might refer to Fleischmann as a one-trick pony -- one who only understands name-calling and saying "no, no, no" to discussion, compromise and real governing.
The incumbent's third negative ad shows both men's 2012 rival, Scottie Mayfield, who proceeds to scold Wamp over secretly recording him last spring: "While I was at home playing with my grandson, Weston Wamp showed up at my doorstep, uninvited, to argue politics and secretly recorded our conversation," Mayfield says in the ad. "Now he's asking for your trust to represent us in Washington?"
Just for the record, it is perfectly legal in Tennessee for you (or Wamp or Mayfield) to record -- secretly or openly -- any conversation that you (or they) are a part of. Wamp has defended the recording, saying he was "concerned ... Mr. Mayfield may have been a victim of the lies, threats and misinformation that has been spread from Congressman Fleischmann and his cronies."
Although some pundits and political observers like Geer say negative campaigns sometimes work, Wamp's response ads haven't fallen to that low. Instead, he has taken the high road: "Whatever happened to statesmanship and honesty?" Wamp asks in a new video spot. "Negative politicians like our incumbent got our country into this mess. ... It's time to put the politics aside. Secure our border (an image saying "no amnesty" flashes on the screen). Cut the federal debt. So that we can leave this country better than we found it."
Come primary election day -- on Thursday, Aug. 7 -- just remember the photo-shopped mailer, the out-of-context quote, the juvenile name-calling, all from a man we sent to Washington to be a leader but who we now find won't even engage in the kind of normal discourse that produces democracy.
The citizens of the 3rd District deserve to have two reasonable, thoughtful and honest candidates to choose from in November.
Fleischmann does not meet that standard.