January 31, 2012

Sowell: Oppose the tactic, not the candidate

In what seems to be shaping up as a personality contest between Mitt Romney and supporters Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, George Will et.al on one side and Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Arthur Laffer and more on the other side, Thomas Sowell weighs in to say it isn't one candidate or another that must not be rewarded, but his tactic.

Gingrich is by no means above criticism. He has been criticized in this column before, over the years, including during the current primary season, and he will probably be criticized here again.

But the poisonous practice of irresponsible smears is an issue that is bigger than Gingrich, Romney or any other candidate of either party.

There have long been reports of people who decline to be nominated for federal judicial appointments because that means going before the Senate Judiciary Committee to have lies about their past spread nationwide, and the good reputation built up over a lifetime destroyed by politicians who could not care less about the truth.

The same practices may well have something to do with the public's dissatisfaction with the current crop of candidates in this year's primaries -- and in previous years' primaries. Character assassination is just another form of voter fraud.

There is no law against it, so it is up to the voters, not only in Florida but in other states, to punish it at the ballot box -- the only place where punishment is likely to stop the practice.

A vote for anyone but Newt at this point in the process is a vote for the politics of personal destruction, and the continuation of business-as-usual in Washington D.C.

2012 Election Posted by JohnGalt at January 31, 2012 2:55 PM

jg: we can make this a lively discussion.

"The politics of personal destruction"? Abraham Lincoln wasn't above making an issue of Stephen Douglas' drinking habits. Lincoln made it clear that his opinion was that no man who drank to excess was fit for the office of the Presidency (I suppose in retrospect that it was fortunate for Grant that Lincoln was already dead by the time of his campaign, eh?). Some considered that smear campaigning.

There's a thin line between telling the ugly truth about an opponent, and telling what amounts to lies. The problem, of course, is that many voters believe the lies that help their guy and hurt the other (how many people, even this late in the game, still think Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from her back yard?), and by the time the fact checkers have spoken and the truth is still lacing up its shoes, the election is over and can't be undone. It would be interesting to see libel and slander laws applied to political campaigns.

Re: your last sentence - I will submit that although he's not my candidate of choice at this point, Mr. Santorum is doing a fine job of running a no-mud-to-be-slung campaign, very much to his credit. Of the four candidates left, he's the one I'd be most comfortable inviting to my home for dinner with the wife. Shame we're voting for a President and not for a dinner guest.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at January 31, 2012 5:38 PM

You're right KA that a certain amount of negative campaigning is unavoidable in politics, and the Santorum example shows (see his poll numbers) how difficult or impossible it is to win without it. Perhaps I should have omitted that part of my close, as what I and, I think Sowell, hope to punish is the "business as usual" part - cronyism.

Thank you for sharpening my pencil!

Posted by: johngalt at January 31, 2012 6:13 PM

???? But Sowell says nothing about Crony capitalism. The whole point of the Sowell column is attack ads. Hurtful to poor Newt, delicate Georgia flower that he is.

Taranto devastates Governor Griz today (last item) as she pursues the same counterattack.

Lastly, how is the House Speaker, multi-decadal-lobbyist, Freddie Mac man and ethanol supporter the true enemy of crony capitalism, when the real private capitalist is not?

Fave topic, Keith. Our ignorant media personalities assure us every year that "this is the nastiest campaign." Rachel Jackson was all but killed by bigamy complaints. Alexander Hamilton was killed by Vice President Burr. Specious "corrupt bargain" charges kept Henry Clay out of the White House.

Posted by: jk at January 31, 2012 6:47 PM

Excellent point, and it makes me rethink my idea of applying libel and slander laws to campaigns. Perhaps instead, it would be better if we instituted the Burr Solution. One candidate would be less likely to smear another if he considered that his opponent might just shoot him dead to defend his sacred honor. And armed society is, after all, a polite society.

Better yet: perhaps we should just repeal all of DC's unconstitutional gun control laws and let politicians settle their differences on the field of honor. Bring back dueling! As an added bonus, it would both reduce the number of politicians we have to deal with, and drastically reduce the number of hoplophobes in Congress.

For the record: if the 2012 Presidential election is settled by a duel, I want Perry back in this race.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at January 31, 2012 7:18 PM


You're kidding right? Newt Gingrich has been smearing Romney as well. For example, the robocalls that claimed that Romney denied Holocaust survivors kosher meals. That is the politics of honesty and integrity?

Gingrich is egomaniacal. He doesn't stand for anything. He has 10 new ideas a day, 8 of which are completely nonsensical and utterly crazy (jk, I chose multiple adverbs purposefully). The idea that he has any support defies logic. Vote for Gingrich at your own peril. A vote for Newt is a vote for Obama.

Posted by: hb at February 1, 2012 7:37 PM

He forcefully and purposefully used two adverbs. I like it.

I received a call from a neighbor last night who had a GOP call list. You could tell this was one of his first calls, and he ran down a list of questions. He asked "if the caucus was today, who would you caucus for?" For the first time, I said it aloud: "Ron Paul!"

His wife whooped in the background. They're RP folk too. Since, I have been called three more times -- I get a little prouder each time.

Posted by: jk at February 1, 2012 7:48 PM

Yes, Newt is using every electoral trick in the book except "carpet bomb your opponent with your superior campaign funds" which I'm sure he would do if he had them. "Egomaniacal?" Just a tad ad-hominem. I see him as determined to succeed in a cause that he (and I) consider crucial.

And if Ron Paul were both i) as determined and ii) as politically saavy he'd be polling even or ahead of Newt. But he ain't. We can Hope that will Change. In the meantime I'm supporting Newt.

Posted by: johngalt at February 2, 2012 4:21 PM


Normally when someone accuses another of an ad hominem attack it is an accusation of a logical fallacy in which the attacker has ignored the issue at hand. I am not debating the Speaker (or you) on an issue, but rather calling into question his character. When one runs for president, character is important. I think that Newt is severely lacking in that category.

The disdain for the mythological establishment that is starting to arise on this blog is worrisome. Who is this establishment? Has everyone ever seen them? Do they live with Big Foot? Perhaps, the Loch Ness Monster?

Posted by: hb at February 2, 2012 6:31 PM

First, hb, I appreciate your stepping up and challenging my assertions. That is the only way they can be tested.

The "establishment" of any party is whoever currently holds a political office under its banner. Generally speaking, the longer a politician holds office the more likely he succombs to the allure of cronyism. There are many exceptions - a notable one is SC Senator Jim DeMint. I do not tar all with the "establishment" brush.

But more than the personalities, the political establishment is a way of thinking: Bureacracies must be maintained, power must be aggregated, control must be exercised. The corporate cronies support the government cronies and vice versa. We can't "unelect" corporate cronies so defeating the politicians is the quickest path to reform.

I referred to your Newt criticism as slightly ad hominem because, as with most Gingrich critiques, I read yours as exagerated and more personal and emotional than fact-based. I have rebutted all of the fact based criticisms with varying success but to say the man has ideas that are "utterly crazy" and then that supporting him "defies logic" strikes me as a non-sequitur.

Newt deserves much of the bad image that he suffers from but certainly not all of it. He gives his opponents plenty to work with, but they are more to blame for any notion that he is "unstable" than is factual.

Finally let me say that my support for Newt is primarily for his courage to start using TEA Party rhetoric. I am rewarding the rhetoric. I find it superior to the Romney rhetoric. Let them both be heard for as long and as far as possible.

Posted by: johngalt at February 3, 2012 1:04 PM | What do you think? [9]