St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Flimsy attacks on Blunt may backfire on Democrats

My fellow progressives often make the mistake of making arguments that resonate well with our own biases but which are so unsupported by fact or logic that the arguments (and the people making them) lose credibility among other voters. A prime recent national example involved the counterfeit military memos about President Bush’s national guard service that were so transparently forged that public attention focused on the forgeries instead of the substance of the matters raised.

Something similar is happening on the state level in Missouri. The Missouri Democratic Party and its “non-partisan” allies (e.g., organized labor and pro-Democrat newspapers like the St. Louis Post Dispatch) are tearing into Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Blunt with a vengeance. Unfortunately, they are going after the wrong issues and losing credibility in the process.

Blunt is the current secretary of state, whose duties include being the state’s chief elections officer. The Dems and the Post have tried to concoct a series of charges designed to make Blunt look like a partisan manipulator of the process. As a progressive, part of me wants to believe the charges, but to any fair-minded person, they just don’t hold water.

The chief complaint is that Blunt asked county clerks to transmit names of voters seeking absentee ballots to Republican campaign workers. In historical context, this is a common practice. Moreover, it was done on Blunt’s campaign stationery, not in his official capacity as secretary of state. A Post editorial cited extremely vague language in a state statute that purports to illegalize contact with voters in possession of an absentee ballot. Even if true, such a law would probably be void because of constitutional protection of free speech. Expressing viewpoints about candidates and issues up for election is clearly the most sacrosanct core of the freedom of speech protected by the Bill of Rights.

The Democrats also criticized Blunt’s attempts to get the proposed “definition of marriage” amendment on the November ballot, instead of the primary election to which Holden scheduled the vote. Blunt actually represented the public interest in his stand, even though helping Republican chances would have been a likely side effect.. A controversial proposal deserves to be decided at an election when more voters turn out, and general elections in presidential years are the elections that always attract the most voters. If Holden’s action in moving up the amendment’s election was correct, why didn’t he do the same with the proposal concerning highway funding (Amendment 3), which he scheduled to appear on the November ballot?

Blunt’s opposition to Democrats’ attempts to implement “early voting” in the City of St. Louis, the state’s most Democratic-voting jurisdiction, is also criticized. Blunt supported the idea for such a plan statewide, but did not implement it because a poorly written law addressed the issue without actually authorizing it to take place. A court ruled that Blunt was correct. For progressives, though, being “fair” is more important than just being “legal.” Blunt wins this battle too, because all but the most partisan hacks recognize the unfairness of special rules to make voting easier for people who vote one way while making all the other voters follow the old, more difficult rules.

Blunt’s attempts to let military voters overseas vote by email, so that election authorities could receive them in time to count them, have also come under fire. Critics charge that voters sacrifice the secrecy of their ballot by doing so. However, Blunt left in place the existing procedure allowing voters concerned about ballot secrecy to vote by mail. While I oppose the war in Iraq, I have to agree that the soldiers over there fighting this unjust war deserve all the help they can get to insure that they have a voice in this election. Democrats are cynically concerned because they fear than this block of votes would be predominantly Republican. They overlook the fact that the military personnel are disproportionately African American, a voting bloc that votes 90% Democratic. Moreover, wouldn’t someone whose life is put in harm’s way with insufficient justification be more likely to question the qualifications of the commander in chief that sent her/him there?

All of these complaints ring hollow, at least in part, because neither the Post, the unions nor the Democratic Party ever complained in the past about other acts that were clearly wrong, but which were done by their allies. Back when being first in line at the secretary of state’s office meant being listed first on the ballot, no one ever complained when legendary incumbent Democrat James Kirkpatrick strolled past the assembled line outside his office on the first day of filing and inserted himself at the head of the line, so that he could be the first to file. Four years ago, Blunt’s predecessor, Democrat Bekki Cook, made up a new rule out of thin air to disqualify Mary Ann McGivern, the Green Party’s candidate for attorney general, from appearing on the ballot, even though Cook’s own official web site listed qualifications for that office that did not include the reason Cook cited for striking McGivern from the ballot.

Perhaps the best example of this hypocrisy is another of the current charges leveled at Blunt. The Democrats are complaining about the use of tax dollars to buy pre-primary get-out-the-vote newspaper ads that featured Blunt’s photograph. This was really pretty minor compared to much larger expenditures of tax dollars by then State Treasurer Bob Holden for television ads promoting Missouri’s tuition savings program (MOST), prominently featuring Holden’s photograph. These ads ran for the better part of Holden’s tenure in that office, including during the heart of his successful 2000 gubernatorial campaign against Republican Jim Talent. They drew not one word of criticism from the Holden-backing Post or any union, and certainly nothing from the Democratic Party. The justification for both Holden and Blunt was the same: utilizing their own high profile endorsement to benefit the cause being promoted. The current state treasurer, Democrat Nancy Farmer, abstains from the blatant self-promotion in her television ads promoting MOST, but she does include her photo prominently on the MOST web page.


Blogger Steve in St. Lou said...

It is a 'sad, but true' fact about modern day campaigns. You must 'define' your opponent -- typically by smear tactics. While the electorate (That's us!) claims to be tired of the mud-slinging in politics, we predictably make our choices based not so much on policy positions, but on our perceptions of the candidates as defined by the opponents. So, even if you might be inclined to support John Kerry for President, you may be concerned about his 'flip-flops.' (In contrast with W's numerous 'positions' on the rationale for invading Iraq -- WMD's, al Qaeda, part of the global war on terrorism, Sadaam is a 'bad dude', etc...) Needless to say, negative, attack campaigning is here to stay.

In fairness to those who would disparage McKaskill's supporters for their attacks on Matt Blunt, let's not forget that the Republicans may not have invented negative, attack campaigning in modern politics, but they certainly have perfected it! (see Swiftboat Veterans for Bald-Faced Lies, Karl Rove, Nixon's 'dirty tricksters', Willie Horton ads (Bush I campaign), etc...) I, for one, will not shed any tears for the Blunt campaign because McKaskill allies call into question Blunt's use of his office to raise his public profile & candidacy. After all, if Blunt were to run on his record alone -- he would have very little to run on!

That said, I'm not fretting over the latest efforts from the Blunt campaign to try to 'define' his opponent, Ms. McKaskill.

The latest adds painting Claire as a 'tax cheat' ought to be familiar with the McKaskill campaign. In the State Auditor's first run for her current position, her campaign ran attack adds painting her chief primary opponent, Steve Conway, as a 'tax cheat' because he had (legally) delayed filing his income tax returns. The adds started running the weekend before the primaries -- not enough time for Conway to effectively rebut them... Those attack adds helped Claire secure the Democratic nomination, and cruise to victory in November.

So, unfortunately, 'What goes around, comes around!' In politics, as in life... And, we seem to be complacent as an electorate in our acceptance of this type of campaigning...

September 22, 2004 at 9:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home