With the December runoff quickly approaching, Mary Landrieu’s hopes of maintaining her seat in the Senate were waning. Political analysts asserted that her most significant problem was lack of significant backing by civil-rights groups and minority voters, which were touted as the key to potential Democratic victory. In an effort to reach out to these groups, Landrieu ran ads on Spanish radio. The following is a translated excerpt of one such advertisement that ran in Spanish prior to the election:
We need a senator that understands the needs of our community, economy, culture and society. Mary Landrieu has worked close to the Hispanic Community. . . . Mary Landrieu, ALSO SUPPORTED THE CANDIDACY OF THE HONDUREAN MIGUEL ESTRADA FOR THE FEDERAL COURT OF APPEALS.
The advertisement was paid for by “Friends of Mary Landrieu,” which Federal Election Committee reports reveal to be the Principal Campaign Committee of the Candidate.
Of course, Landrieu won the election, and she did so on in no small part due to high minority turnout. Given the current shameful treatment of Miguel Estrada and her unambiguous support for him during, voters in her state might well expect to see Landrieu standing side-by-side with Senator Breaux in support of the highly qualified D.C. Circuit nominee. But then the voters would be wrong: Landrieu is supporting the filibuster. Thus Landrieu does again what she has done far too often before: talked like a moderate, and voted like a liberal.
When Landrieu was confronted with this “apparent contradiction,” her staff, no doubt using President Clinton’s deposition as a “how to” guide for politicos caught in “apparent contradictions” issued the following statement:
Unfortunately, some of my supporters in the Hispanic community who helped us produce this commercial misinterpreted my neutrality as a statement of support. I take personal responsibility for the error and I apologize to anyone who was mislead by these ads, which ran for less than two weeks on one radio station in New Orleans. [Emphasis added.]
Now, clearly we should take Senator Landrieu at her word: Her supporters just happened to misunderstand her — I’m sure that she never said anything supporting Estrada — and then of course her Principal Campaign Committee just happened to run an ad written by them based on this misunderstanding. But then, what could have caused this misunderstanding? Perhaps this statement by Landrieu in the Baton Rouge Advocate might have confused them:
Landrieu said she has done her best in the U.S. Senate to encourage the appointment of more black judges. “Not that Sen. Breaux hasn’t been supportive, because he most certainly has. But I have been more vocal on that issue, and proudly so,” Landrieu said. I believe we need a diversity of qualified judges on our bench, both African-American and Hispanic. And I’ve been very proud of that, and I think it’s the right thing to do.”
You see, it’s just an honest misunderstanding. Landrieu just meant that she doesn’t oppose Estrada, and that she supports confirming Hispanics to the bench. Why even a child of two should have been able to understand that from these statements what she really meant is that she was open to filibustering a circuit-court nominee — something which has never been done in the history of the Senate — because her liberal buddies are afraid that President Bush might make him the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. But don’t get her wrong: She said that she’s more supportive of minority nominees than her colleague Senator Breaux, which is of course why he is supporting Estrada and why she is supporting the filibuster. It’s all perfectly simple.
Over the years, American politics has added words to the English lexicon — one thinks of “gerrymander” and “Borked.” But now an American election has added a new word to the Spanish lexicon. ¿Cómo se dice “a flagrantly broken campaign promise, especially one which capitalizes on ethnicity” en Español? Landrieu?
— Robert Alt is an adjunct fellow at the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.