A minimum-wage attack ad

The same way Apple convinced a generation of consumers to buy products they never knew they wanted, the most cynical political operatives can induce voters to hate things that never bothered them before. That seems to be the goal behind the astonishingly clumsy campaign to tar backers of a minimum wage increase — a highly popular, mainstream stance — as Marxists, in an effort to blunt political momentum for a wage hike with a flurry of buzzwords likely to rile up conservative partisans.

The Employment Policies Institute, which took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, drew comparisons to red-baiting of the 1950s with its inflammatory attacks. After combing a list of signatures on a petition in favor of raising the wage, the group found a few academics with self-described Marxist leanings, and then tried to use them to discredit the whole movement. The ad was reminiscent of the right-wing attacks against Barack Obama for having decades ago attended a campaign event hosted by Bill Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor and former 1960s radical, with whom he later served on a community board. Come to think of it, it’s quite possible that Ayers supports a higher minimum wage, too. And Jane Fonda, as well. But however it’s presented, guilt-by-association is one of the cheapest, most divisive of political ploys.