Did you ever read a Superman comic book when you were a kid?
If the answer is yes, then you probably know all about Bizarro World, the cube-shaped planet where everything is upside-down and contrary to normal expectations.
Well, welcome to Bizarro World.
In my 40-plus years of covering politics, one thing has held true throughout – comfortable incumbent candidates try to get by with vanilla-flavored, smiley-faced campaign advertising, while challengers, desperate to knock their opponents down a notch or two, run plenty of "attack ads" aimed at questioning the character of their opponents, often running afoul of the truth.
Or maybe "close to the truth." "Close" apparently counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and campaign attack ads.
Unless, of course, you are one of those who believe that being "close" to the truth is the same as being untruthful. It is likely that most of us were raised to believe that.
That is why this Ohio 1st Congressional District race between long-time incumbent Republican Steve Chabot and his brash young opponent, Democrat Aftab Pureval, is so very unusual.
In this case, it is Pureval who has been airing the upbeat ads, pointing out in one that his first name, given to him by his Tibetan mother and Indian father, means "Sunshine." It is Chabot – along with the Super PAC controlled by House Speaker Paul Ryan – who is running the dark, dramatic attack ads that skirt close to outright lies and sometimes cross the line.
There is an exception to the rule: Pureval's campaign is running a 30-second TV ad which is not full of "Sunshine" – it is a rather angry ad entitled "Phony," accusing Chabot of lying about Pureval's record as county clerk of courts – saying that, contrary to the claim in Chabot's ad that there is a $400,000 deficit in Pureval's office, there is no deficit at all. Chabot's campaign produced some spreadsheets from the county showing that they say shows there is a deficit.
"Phony" also claims that Chabot voted to "strip away protections for people with pre-existing conditions" – meaning that he voted to do away with the Affordable Care Act.
Chabot, the Pureval ad says, has had "22 years in office and nothing to offer but lies and negative ads."
Cody Rizzuto, a spokesman for the Chabot campaign, said the incumbent Republican had said on several occasions that he favored keeping coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.
But Chabot did vote to end the Affordable Care Act, including the pre-existing conditions clause. Rizzuto says that if Chabot had an opportunity to vote on a replacement bill that kept pre-existing conditions, he would have voted for that, but never had the chance.
We leave it to you to parse that out.
Let's take the Chabot ad entitled "Perfect" first.
It starts out with a woman's voice and a photo of a smiling Pureval. The woman says, "Aftab thinks he's the perfect politician. But does he have a perfect record?"
Then it goes after his record since becoming Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in Jan. 2017.
Aftab loaded the clerk's office with his cronies.
We're not sure a relatively new politician such as Pureval has amassed that many cronies, but this appears to be referring to his hiring of Chris Wagner, the son-in-law of former Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke.
Wagner is certainly qualified for the office. For the previous nine years, he was managing attorney in the Ohio Attorney General's 40-employee Cincinnati office, under both Republican and Democratic attorneys general. Ask anybody in the courthouse – Wagner is respected by both Democrats and Republicans. He's nobody's crony.
This business about hiring cronies and deficits in the office are peanuts in comparison to the whopper of an ad being run in the district by Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a Super PAC headed up by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
In some of the most convoluted logic we have ever seen in politics (and we've seen a lot), this ad tries to make the case that, somehow, Pureval (who just happens to have brown skin and a "funny" name) is the ally of the Libyan terrorists who bombed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in Dec. 1988, killing all 259 on board and 11 persons on the ground.
Seriously. This ad implies that Pureval had something to do with it. The unspoken message: Maybe he is a terrorist himself!
Try to follow this, if you can:
After law school at the University of Cincinnati, Pureval went to work for a Washington law firm, White & Case, that does a lot of lobbying for foreign governments.
Libya hired White & Case to work out a settlement, which, eventually, became the 2008 Libyan Claims Resolution Act. There is absolutely no evidence that this junior lawyer from Beavercreek, Ohio, had anything to do with working out the settlement.
Just to make the point, the ad flashes images of Muammar Qaddafi and the wreckage of a crashed airliner. And, near the end, an image of Pureval and Hillary Clinton standing side by side, smiling. Yes, Hillary Clinton. Go figure.
Under federal election law, candidates' campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with these independent expenditure groups. But the Chabot campaign has a whole file of material; on this, most of it irrelevant.
"Our campaign had nothing to do with the ad, but we also see nothing in the ad that isn't factual,'' Rizzuto said in a written statement to WVXU.
"Aftab's D.C. lobbying firm did represent Libya and continued to do so for more than two years after Aftab started working there,'' Rizzuto wrote. "So he shared in the projects the firm was making representing the Qaddafi government."
And he points out that two of the lawyers who were working for Libya gave money to Pureval's campaign.
They weren't the only ones in the firm to give to Pureval's campaign. That is standard operating procedure in law firms – one of the lawyers runs for public office; his or her colleagues contribute.
Another fact neither the Chabot campaign nor the CLF volunteer is that Chabot voted for the 2008 Libya Claims Resolution Act. Or that it was signed into law by President George W. Bush, a Republican.
By the way, Aftab Pureval was six years old in Beavercreek, Ohio, when that plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. He was probably more interested in eating his bowl of Lucky Charms and watching Scooby Doo than in plotting terrorist attacks.
My friend Kevin Aldridge, opinion editor of the Enquirer, got this right in an Aug. 31 editorial: "Voters should reject this kind of ethnic tribalism and politics of personal destruction."
My advice to you as voters: When you see an attack ad come on, flip the channel. Try the Cartoon Network. Much more in contact with reality.