Thursday, August 05, 2010

Garber’s Swift Boat Ads And Dean’s Challenge

Ross Garber waited quite a while before expressing his interest in running for attorney general as a Republican. This sort of thing may be inconvenient to party nominated candidates, but so long as it’s still a free country, Mr. Garber is free to be his potty old self, and everyone else in the party should be prepared to humor him.

But Mr. Garber now has chosen to wrest votes from attorney general party nominee Martha Dean through a series of “swift-boating” ads. “Swift-boating” is a term that came into currency during the presidential run of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts when it was felt by Kerry’s supporters that his opponents were pumping false and toxic ads into the political bloodstream.

Garber so far has released, a little more than a week before the primary, two swift-boat ads, either one of which is worthy of the most shameless of ex-President Richard Nixon’s worst subalterns.

The Garber-garbage ads tears out of context a Dean quote suggesting an honest discussion concerning the decriminalization of some drugs, plops butchered quotes into the more lurid of the brochures and surrounds it with pictures of crack dealers and discarded drug paraphernalia. Rick Green, a columnist and blogger for the Hartford Courant ran without comment pictures of the ad on his blog site.

This is the first of Mr. Garber’s ads posted with minimal comment on Mr. Green’s blog site:

The back of the brochure shows a placid and smiling Mr. Garber and a drug user bending listlessly over a bottle of liquor. Perhaps the despondent drug user has just read Mr. Garber’s political ad.

Even political writers who have placed themselves sympathetically and politically in Mr. Garber’s corner and have occasionally indulged in slipshod mud-slinging – Mr. Green, for instance, thinks “Mad Martha,” as he calls Mrs. Dean, has “cyborg blue eyes” – must have been a bit unsettled by such scurrilous brochures.

So, the question arises: What to do about last minute Tricky Dickey ads sent out so near a primary that they cannot be effectively challenged?

The intent of such ads is to capture the campaign narrative through a series of red herrings that, issued close to primary D-Day, cannot be effectively answered. Dean’s response to a charge that she would facilitate drug dealing would not fit on the bumper sticker of a car, still less in a campaign brochure. And relying on John Henry Newman’s remark that “if you fling mud, some will stick; stick but not stain” seems hardly appropriate, because that kind of a permissive, turn-the-other-cheek posture is not a sufficient discouragement to those proficient in the fine art of mud-slinging.

One could reply in kind with a brochure, for instance, showing Ross -- a lawyer who has chosen to build up his new law practice by defending political crooks -- surrounded by notorious mobsters such as Al Capone, with lurid shots of the bloody bodies left behind after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But if one’s objection to mud slinging is that it falls beyond the bounds of civil discourse, one can hardly engage in compensating scurrilities one abhors.

One real reporter at the Courant noted in one of his dispatches that Mrs. Dean said only that she would welcome an intelligent discussion, presumably among knowledgeable people interested in the decriminalization of drug use, with a view to settling the problem by means more effective than those currently in use.

Both Mr. Garber and Mr. Green seem to be unaware that the decriminalization discussion has been floating around for decades. Indeed, some ideological barriers that have long separated conservatives and liberals on the question of decriminalization were dismantled years ago by two of the most prominent conservatives of our time, William Buckley and noble prize winning economist Milton Friedman.

“Liberals at the Courant took issue with Dean’s remark that the legislature should consider drug legalization, a political position long embraced by some liberals and others who even now wince when they consider that prisons are bursting at the seams with people arrested for relatively minor drug offenses. It has been years since conservative economist Milton Friedman plausibly argued that the legalization of some drugs would relieve social problems. More than seven years ago, Bill Buckley shocked his brethren by agitating for the legalization of marijuana as a test to probe the question: Would legalization be more harmful than a present policy that packs jails mostly with young black men drawn into gangs by the lure of lawless money making.”

The passage quoted above is taken from an earlier blog and column -- which included embedded links that carry the reader to a column by Mr. Buckley and a video interview with Mr. Friedman. It answers a challenge presented by Green on his blog:


“You sound like a true RINO. Decriminalize drugs? I don't recall many conservatives advancing this cause.

“Mad Martha deserves everything she gets. She ought to have the backbone to defend her own viewpoints.


In the meantime, Dean’s suggestion really should bear fruit. There should be a discussion in the state on the benefits of continuing a costly drug criminalization program that, some conservatives and enlightened liberals would be willing to argue, has turned the distribution of drugs in the poorer parts of cities over to criminals who are not likely to be thwarted by Mr. Garber’s and Mr. Green’s opposition to alternative strategies proposed by Buckley, Friedman and these guys:

See Chris Powell's column here.
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