Stupid Political Tricks

When I was in College and an active College Republican, we had training sessions in a variety of of campaign activities. While the lessons of many of those lectures have been lost I distinctly remember one session leader saying, “If ever in a campaign you are faced with a difficult decision, and you don’t know what to do, there is one question you should ask. Does anyone here know what it is?”

A nice girl from Libery Baptist College raised her hand and said “What Would Jesus Do?”

The speaker smiled, and said ” No…you ask what is the smart thing to do?”

This lesson has apparently been lost to the body politic over the last few years, and while it has hit both parties it has been terribly ignored in Virginia…and typically by the GOP.

This goes back many years. In 1953, Republican state Senator Ted Dalton found himself in position to defeat Congressman Thomas Stanley for the governorship. Such a win would be the first time since reconstruction a Republican had been elected governor of Virginia. Dalton picked that moment to come out for borrowing money to build roads in Virginia.

Dalton was great friends with Harry Byrd, Sr., and Byrd decided he would not campaign against his friend unless he came out with something that Harry absolutely could not swallow…and this was it. Byrd came out swinging over the need to stick with Pay As You Go road financing, and Stanley won the closest gubernatorial election in Virgina history to that time.  Both parties engaged in it by deciding to send candidates against an Independent Harry Byrd, Jr. in both 1970 and 1976.  The nominations of mondo liberal Henry Howell in 1977 by the Democrats and the ultra conservative Wyatt Durette in 1985 fall into this category, but at a higher level of thought.

The GOP has really been bit by the screw up bug recently.

In 2005, as Kilgore made a move toward Kaine was had apparently closed the gap between them to nothing, the GOP released the “Hitler” ads. I remember Chad Dotson saying these ads were decisive, and the race was over.

Chad was right, but not in the way he anticipated.

In 2006-there was “Macaca” and an inability to recover. You know how that song goes.

I really thought we were too close to the 2007 general election for something like that to happen. I was mistaken.

You can go to RK and NLS for the full details of the unfortunate mailing that JMDD recently distributed. The mailing included a copy of a disclosure form that included Chap!’s home address and phone number. With this information landing in the mailboxes of potentially unusual folks across the district, Chap! and his family received a number of harassing phone calls…and by this AM the WaPo had picked up the story.

When asked for comment, JMDD was amazingly obtuse:

Davis said that her opponent is making too much of the mail piece and that she did not publish the personal information intentionally. She also said that all of the information is readily available in the telephone book and on the Internet, and that much of it has been published by Petersen himself.

“He sent out a piece with his children’s pictures and their names,” Davis said. “Give me a break.”

Perhaps, but apparently there was no slew of harrasing phone calls after his mailing, nor was there an increase in threat factor that caused the local police to increase their neighborhood patrols just in case…

We should note that of course she intentionally printed the information. Perhaps she meant it was not done maliciously.

But it is her cluelessness that really sings out. Here she is with a money edge and having supposedly eliminated a nine-point gap-which if true means her campaign was building an unstoppable velocity-and she sends out this drek. She could have made her point without including the personal information.

Why? Why pull this stuff? Probably because they never had the training class I mentioned above. Hence the foolish execution of stupid political trick.

I don’t know that I should be surprised. I have long criticised the Va GOP for the failure to create and articulate a vision for the future, a vision that would build a party identity that would help win elections. When you combine that with a continued inability to run a smart, error free campaign, then you have two obstacles that will likely make the GOP a General Assembly minority unless the party leadership smells the coffee and hears the cries from the wilderness of me and those like me. JMDD is only the latest manifestation of these trends.

Some may think this harsh criticism; some may say “why are you saying this about another Republican?”

Fair enough…what you need to understand is that I am not a Yellow Dog Republican, I am a Default Republican. My default vote is for the GOP candidate, but a strong enough argument or candidate can convince me to cross party lines.

But our party affiliation-or lack thereof-is simply a manifestation of our values and who we are. Before you get to me being in the GOP, I am a husband and a father, and I would not want my family harassed like this…so in the current situation it gets down to this:

–As a father and husband, I find this mailing to be inexcusable;
–As a Republican, I find the thinking or logic behind sending this mailing out in this form to be inexplicable;
–As a politically interested citizen and observer, I find the JMDD reaction to be troubling and sitting somewhere between silly and ridiculous.

I do not live in the 34th, but I bet there are plenty of folks in Senate 34 who fit one of the three categories above.

JMDD wants to be given a break…and I think she will, but not the one she thinks she should receive.

Stupid Political Tricks, indeed.

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10 thoughts on “Stupid Political Tricks

  1. Bwana, this is one of the most insightful posts I’ve seen on this topic. What has been particularly troublesome to me is how eager some Republican bloggers have been to defend JMDD for this dirty trick, including many I respect, such as Mason Conservative. Chris, especially, has disappointed me because I always thought that although he was very partisan, he was fair and a good guy.

    Thank you so much for restoring my faith that there are indeed people who are passionate about their politics without losing their moral compass or their common sense.

  2. Very insightful Bwana (and I’m not just saying that as a Democrat); it’s exactly the kind of post I would be applauding had this same thing been done by a Democrat.

    It’s just basic common sense: you don’t print somebody’s home address and telephone number on a campaign mailer. And the excuse “well, he sent out a mailer with his kids and their names,” is just ridiculous. If someone wants to make their own information public, that’s their choice. But for JMDD to think that anyone will agree with her that someone gets to freely release the home address and phone number of a political opponent on a negative campaign mailer is silly.

  3. Bwana, thank you so much for your post. I’ve been attacked for two days by Republicans for commenting on this over at NLS. I imagine some of them will want to be even rougher on you. I’ve been on the Davises case for years, because I happen to be represented by both of them. I’ve always maintained that as they saw the gap grow between their ideologies and those of their GOP leadership, and as it became more and more apparent that moving the GOP closer to their position would be a long and difficult process, they should consider switching sides. I’ve talked to a lot of people in my districts who seem to like Tom and Jeannemarie on a personal level. Tom, in particular, strikes a lot of people as very smart and dedicated to his craft. If they had switched to the Democratic Party, I bet they’d have pretty safe seats right now. Anyway, I like your candor. As we elect broadly popular people like Jim Webb, Mark Warner, and Chap Petersen, I hope to find someday that you’ve become a default Democrat.

  4. Bwana, you know that, according to Chap, there wasn’t a “slew of harrasing phone calls” after this mailing. Chap said one person angrily asked about Chap and Enron, and another left a message asking Chap to call him back (this is from Chap’s press conference, and his quotes in the WP article).

    He also said they had a few phone calls that they didn’t answer and that didn’t leave a message. Even if they were generated from this mailing, my phone rings like that every afternoon, and it’s hardly a major case of harassment.

    As to the “additional police presence, he’s a politician running for office who ASKED them to assist, and they offered to run through. Then there were the union guys who stood with him, but they are already standing by him as democrats, and the commonwealth attorny who is a democrat.

    She should have blacked out the information, but the information IS public. This is NOT like making up names for a campaign staffer, or running stupid ads comparing people to hitler. Those were actually wrong things to do. This wasn’t a “wrong thing to do”, this wasn’t a lie, or malicious, it was just something that happens in the course of a campaign. You grab the image of a public disclosure, you print it up, then you realise the public disclosure has information that some might misuse.

    I’m all for going after the person who apparently harassed Chap, if there was any real harassment. I’m all for reminding candidates to double-check their use of public disclosures to avoid unnecessary reprinting of public information.

    But I refuse to participate in a public lynching of a candidate by democrats who could care LESS about what is “right”, who have been lying in official mailings for months, who had no problem last year repeatedly suggesting Allen’s son was named after a KKK leader, who regularly make up vile and hateful things about republicans which generate MANY negative calls and attacks.

    If you want to see REAL harrassment, just look at the ELECTED democrats, inviting Code Pink terrorists into the CONGRESS, where the capital police are unable to prevent them from assaulting the Secretary of State when she is there to testify.

    Let the “progressives” scream about how the worst thing that EVER happened in this world was that public information of a political candidate showed up in the public mailboxes of voters who are supposed to vote for him.

    Then you can ask about why Chap Petersen has the names, addresses, and phone numbers of ALL those people who got this mailer.

    Because he has voter registration roles. He paid for them, and he has them. So why does Chap think it’s ok to get VOTERS names and phone numbers, and use those to man phone banks that call them during dinner and harass them to vote for Chap, but that those same voters have NO RIGHT to have HIS home phone number?

  5. Hmmm, might not Devolites accusing Petersen of posting her daughter’s legal problems and lack of judgment in choosing friends at the tender age of 18 have something-something to do with the mailouts?!?

    Of course, the Petersen campaign denies absolutely any involvement with the YouTube posting. I’m sure the opposition research on Devolites was silent on the subject.

  6. First off, we all need to get away from calling political attacks like this “public lynchings”. If you have ever read descriptions of a lynching, or seen photographs of the end result, you might agree.

    Second, I don’t think I said that people didn’t have the right to Chap’s phone number…and lord knows that if someone wants to get his number, there are a variety of ways to do it. Near as I can tell I have not gotten a slew of bothersome phone calls because Chap! has my number…although I apparently have gotten several since Gary Baise has it…

    I said JMDD was wrong to provide it, just as it would be wrong for anyone to publish and widely distribute someone else’s phone number/contact information for the sole reason of encouraging harassing phone cals-and I suggest that is the only reason to do it, because again anyone who really wanted to reach a public official can do so. Sending out those numbers had only one plausible real intent…and that is harassing phone calls.

    More to the point, it was stupid. Was there any other mailer JMDD distributed that got her a negative story in the WaPo? Given how fired up her opponents are, did she really need to do something lie this? Could she have sent out a mailing with the same message and not included the home information?

    The answer to all three is “no”.

    I don’t claim the democrats are blameless when it comes to harassing tactics, but I still quaintly subscribe to the idea that two wrongs don’t make a right. I also believe that inevitably those that harass get their comeuppance…and typically at the ballot box.

    As far as George Allen and the various things said last year…a lot of nasty things were said last year by the Democrats, a lot of inexcusable things that bit by bit helped sink the George Allen boat…and the sad truth is that had Allen never said “Macaca”, had he responded forthrightly and apologized quickly, all that merde would have been nipped in the bud. Instead, he stumbled and fumbled, and suddenly things like the flag and the noose in his office were no longer historical relics but were seen as testimony to darker beliefs…because he would not apologize for unknowingly using a racial slur. Forgiveness is not possible until repentance occurs, and the fact that he would not apologize turned a gaffe into a running sore.

    Bottom line-as citizens we cannot excuse bad conduct by elected officials, whether the behavior is illegal or immoral or inappropriate. As Republicans, we should not be willing to condone stupidity on the part of our candidates…it makes the party look bad to the public, and it encourages similar conduct down the road.

  7. Mimi…I am sure Chap! was ignorant of the the posting, or would claim it…just as Jim Webb was or would claim to be ignorant the vile and unsubstantiated things that were said about George Allen adn his family last year. Plausbile deniability is used by all candidates.

    But if your supposition is correct, then her tactic is still estupido. If a non-campaign trackable You tube posting was what fired this up, then the response should have been proportional…the you tube was likely not a campaign post, nor did it include JMDD’s home contact information. To send something like this out at the last second, something guaranteed to generate negative publicity?

    At worst, sending out the contact information-regardless of the motivation-was wrong. At best, it was stupid.

  8. The most ridiculous thing about that JMDD mailer was the cirlcing of Peterson’s phone number in red, with a red arrow pointing to it. I would possibly give JMDD the benefit of the doubt if it was a simple reproduction of the disclosure form, but the red circling and arrow to the phone number was just too much.

  9. Thank you LI as well as Bwana. Chap’s personal information may be publicly available, but putting it in a pamphlet that is designed to be inflammatory and raise emotions is what makes the tactics wrong.

    As I explain on my site, it’s an issue of proximity. I don’t fault JMDD for wanting to inflame voters to go to the polls to vote against Chap. That’s her job as a candidate and both sides engage in that. But posting his address and phone number, circled in red, in such a mailing can be viewed by an excitable, easily influenced, and unbalanced reader as an invitation to call and harrass Chap.

    It’s telling that Chap reined Ben Tribbett in and asked him not to print JMDD’s address or phone number. Surely, her information is as available as Chap’s. But to print it in a blog post that is already raising emotions would be equally wrong. And I’m glad that Ben didn’t do it.

    And for all the vitriol in the Allen-Webb race last year, nobody printed anybody’s address or attacked the candidates’ families. By the way, when Republicans start looking for the speck in Democrats’ eyes in pointing out campaign sins, they also need to check out the beam in their own eye. Or have they forgotten Kilgore’s ads comparing Kaine to Hitler?

    There’s plenty of blame for the environment of negativity to go around to both sides.

    And Mimi, as I pointed out elsewhere, you are mistaken about Chap’s role in bringing attention to JMDD’s daughter’s legal problems. Her involvement in and conviction for a crime were already public knowledge. And Chap, or his campaign, were not the ones who posted the YouTube video. Again, the Davis’ personal family tragedy was well known in Fairfax. But it should not be part of a campaign and Chap didn’t make it so.

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