October is just two days away. Not only does the month bring the World Series, Oktoberfest and Halloween, but also another American tradition: The October Surprise.
The term “October Surprise” refers to an attempt to smear a political candidate with an unforeseen disclosure in October in an effort to discredit him/her in the eyes of the public. Usually, it occurs too late in October for the smeared candidate to recover in time for the November election.
Here are some notable October Surprises from the past:
1980. The Iran Hostage Crisis. Ronald Reagan was comfortably ahead in most polls against a much-maligned President Jimmy Carter. Iranian revolutionaries had been holding American hostages in Tehran for months, making Carter look weak and ineffectual. Carter was working feverishly to get the hostages released in an attempt to save his floundering campaign. According to the rumors, Reagan’s campaign negotiated directly with the Iranians to delay the release of the American hostages until after the November election in order to prevent a late surge for Carter. The allegation has never been proven, despite Congressional hearings and numerous books on the subject. The most popular book was entitled “October Surprise,” causing the phrase to enter common usage.
1988. Willie Horton. Technically, George H.W. Bush’s anti-Dukakis ads regarding Willie Horton came out in September, so this was more of a September Surprise. Under Dukakis’ governorship, Massachusetts ran a weekend furlough program for incarcerated criminals in order to aid their rehabilitation. After escaping from custody while on a weekend furlough, convicted felon Willie Horton brutally raped a woman after beating and stabbing her fiance. The ads denounced Dukakis’ “soft on crime” policies for allowing Willie Horton to walk out of jail. There’s no doubt the ads hurt Dukakis as Bush cruised to a comfortable victory. Many academics and journalists accused the ads of playing to America’s most rac*st fears, as Horton was black and his victim was white, though all of the facts in the ads were true.
1992. Casper Weinberger Indictment. Days before the Presidential election, an independent counsel indicted former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. Weinberger denied any knowledge of arms being sent to Iran in exchange for money to be transferred to the Contras in Nicaragua. However, just days before the election, the press started to question whether George H.W. Bush was involved in the Iran-Contra affair because of the indictment.
2000. George W. Bush’s DUI. This was probably the most ineffective attempt at an October Surprise in history. The Gore Campaign, caught in a tight race, released evidence of a 1976 Driving Under the Influence charge against George W. Bush. The entire country shrugged its shoulders at a 25-year-old DUI.
2004. Swift Boat. The anti-Kerry ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had such an impact on the campaign that “swiftboating” is now used as a verb in political circles. Technically, the “Swift Boat” campaign was not an October surprise as the allegations that Kerry had lied about his service on a Swift Boat during the Vietnam War had been around throughout the summer and fall. Several veterans that served in Vietnam with Kerry challenged his version of the facts surrounding his “heroism.” They also stated that Kerry was anti-war and unpatriotic after his service. The Swift Boat ads had a noticeable impact on the polls when they were aired. Many attribute the ads to Bush’s victory in 2004.
With October Surprises having become a routine part of American politics, many in the blogosphere are wondering what will be revealed in 2008. Since McCain was already hit with his share of surprises in 2000 during the Republican primaries, most of the focus has been on what possible new disclosures are lurking in Obama’s closet.
Here are some of the most blogged-about possible surprises:
1) The Whitey Video. Supposedly, sometime in 2004, Michelle Obama publicly railed against “Whitey” (using it as a derogatory term for white people) in a speech regarding America’s domestic problems. Rumor has it that the GOP has it on videotape and is waiting for the right time to unleash it. I have a hard time believing this one. If such a video existed, wouldn’t it have been released by now? And if the speech occurred in public, wouldn’t someone who remembered it have come forward by now?
2) Obama was not born in the U.S.A. A lawsuit in federal court alleges that Obama was born in another country and demands that he release a copy of his original birth certificate. Supposedly, the Certificate of Live Birth that he released in the summer is a forgery. Again, as with the Whitey Video, I’m skeptical about this one. The Certificate has been verified by government officials, so this would have to be a very far-reaching conspiracy if there is one.
3) Osama Bin Laden’s location is known and he will be killed or captured right before the election. I hope this is true. Of course, confirming or denying something this high level is beyond my blogging skills.
4) Rev. Wright makes a comback in some way. Probably true. Even if nothing new happens, we’ll be seeing clips of Rev. Wright in October for sure.
Of course, there’s the possiblity that the October Surprise will be an actual surprise, even to the blogosphere, with the GOP unearthing something totally unexpected. As evidenced by the above, the GOP is much better at October Surprises than the Democrats (Bush’s DUI was a joke). Surely, they will come up with something masterful against this unvetted and controversial member of the Chicago political machine?
P.S.: October 3 is also the birthday of one of our contributing writers, Wendy Sullivan. Can there be a better present than a surprise that sinks Obama?