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:

“Don,

“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.

“Rick”

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.

9 comments:

Ralph said...

I was thinking the same thing before I saw the brochure. If I had any doubt about Dean v. Garber, his radio ads sealed it. Anyone of reasonable intelligence knows that decriminalization of marijuana is hardly a radical proposal today in this country. Connecticut's misdemeanor crime, for possession of less than four ounces, is a mere infraction (like a traffic ticket) in neighboring Massachusetts. I won't be voting for Garber now - or, probably, ever. I hope his ads backfire.

Charles said...

It's unfair to John O'Neill to compare the sleazy Garber mailer to the Swift Boat ads, which were accurate.

Don Pesci said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Pesci said...

Charles,

As soon as a word enters the marketplace, it's pretty much on its own. So with the word "swift-boating," which now means little more than a "smear campaign." The original usage of the word has been lost or over-written. The word "homely" used to mean "of the home." Only later did it acquire a pejorative meaning – “ugly,” though there is nothing inherently ugly about a home. I think in the case under discussion there was an attempt to smear, in which case the common meaning of the word would apply – even though it may not have applied initially to O’Neill. Not often does one get a chance to hoist those who distort the language in their own petard.

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

What this election has shown is that no politician is above going to any length to win. Mike Fedele is known as Mr. Nice Guy around the capitol, but when push came to shove, he was more than happy to run harrowing ads disparaging the character of his opponent. Ross Garber has been described in glowing terms by liberals like Colin McEnroe and Norm Pattis as kind of a lawyer-statesman, a "lawyer's lawyer" as one of them put it. Yet Ross is willing to essentially accuse his opponent of being a high class enabler of drug users. John McCain, burned once in 2000, was more than happy to use the same tactics the Bush machine used against him come 2008.

I guess it's just funny to me that anyone ever thinks a politician is anything other than a politician.

Will anyone survive this primary with their dignity intact?

Don Pesci said...

To be sure, much of this is traceable to the character of politicians. Have you noticed that women engaging in politics – except when attacked unjustly – tend to be less testosterone prone than men? But the architecture of primaries invites this kind of abuse: They are same species cage matches. There is no going back to the old days, when the good old boys and a few influential editors of local papers decided who would be on the ticket. In the good old days, all the carefully managed savagery was across party lines – now you have videographers brough in from Zap, North Dakota peddling their wares to assistant managers of campaigns brought in from Knockemstiff, Ohio, not that there’s anything wrong with either of these delightful places. In this kind of a political theatre, civility is the first casualty.

Greg said...

Thank you Rick for defending the ideals of republicanism and/or conservatism. Green is incapable of thought beyond platitudinous bumper-sticker, knee-jerk pulp. Rick Green is an un-serious sideline sniper, who is as clever as he thinks he is, by half. So sad. Don, if you hadn't commented, I would never know what he had to say.

Charles said...

I understand what you are saying, Don. Words and expressions take on a life of their own sometimes, but I prefer not to buy into the leftist meme on this one.

Don Pesci said...

Charles,

I understand but still think Republicans would be wise to hold the word in reserve for those occasions when it does apply. No one owns the language. And just because A misuses a word, B should not be restrained from using it properly. I can think of several times in the last legislative session when majority Democrats “swiftboated” minority Republicans; the passage of the felicitously named Dodd-Frank Bill was a swiftboat operation from beginning to end, no?