The Gold Standard for Political Smears: Newt Gingrich, 1994

This is going to be a dirty campaign, and the Republicans are already sliming Kerry while they whine about how dirty the Democrats are. This is a good time for a flashback to what I think is the nastiest example of dirty politics of recent times: Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Susan Smith smear.

“When Susan Smith confessed to drowning her two children in a South Carolina lake, Gingrich was quick to blame the Democrats. ‘I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. . . . The only way to change is to vote Republican.'”

This accusation makes no real sense because it doesn’t actually accuse anyone of anything specific. It just takes a single horrible act and laughably blames it on the fact that the Democrats controlled Congress. This was really the bottom level of gutter politics, and it seems to have worked. The Republicans took control of Congress in that election and Gingrich (who never apologized) became Speaker of the House — the second-most-powerful man in American government.

That’s bad enough, but the truth was really much worse. In fact, the horrible story did have a political angle, but it worked in the opposite direction. The woman who killed her two kids, Susan Smith, was the stepdaughter of a member of the South Carolina Republican Party Central Committee (also active with the Moral Majority), Beverly Russell. Furthermore, Beverly (a man) sexually molested his stepdaughter for several years during her teens.

Of course, once it was found that there really was a political angle on the story, and that it was not just a baseless Republican smear, the story died. Today, if you Google “Beverly Russell” + “Susan Smith” + “Newt Gingrich”, you will get a grand total of 16 hits, mostly on marginal political sites. (Props to Robert Scheer for keeping the story — just barely — alive).

The moral of the story? Let the Republicans whine, and expect the worst. They’ve already shown that there is nothing so creepy that they aren’t willing to do it, and I won’t be surprised if they outdo themselves this year.

More on the story: Russell was under investigation for using Moral Majority funds in Pat Robertson’s presidential campaign

Beverly Russell and Susan Smith

More Republican Party sex criminals, including an Iran-Contra connection