Sarah Palin, as anyone who doesn’t live in an apolitical cave knows, has been a magnet for intense reactions – from those who love her, hate her, and everywhere in between. While the 2008 election is behind us, that emotion has far from died down. Today, as she campaigns for Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss in his runoff with Democratic challenger Jim Martin, Palin is taking unfair heat for an episode of political mythology.
Over the weekend, the Anchorage Daily News attacked Palin for daring to go to Georgia, accusing her of being ignorant about the man for whom she’s campaigning. According to the editorial-page editor, Matt Zencey, “Chambliss was elected to the Senate in 2002 by running one of the most reprehensible campaigns of modern times. He was up against incumbent Democrat Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam War veteran who lost both legs and his right arm to a grenade during that conflict.”
What was so reprehensible?
You may recall John Kerry pushing this bit of historic dishonesty about the Cleland-Chambliss race during his campaign for president; the Massachusetts Democrat claimed: “To this day I am motivated by – and I will be throughout this campaign – the most craven moment I’ve ever seen in politics, when the Republican party challenged this man’s patriotism in the last campaign.” Bill Clinton would return
to the Cleland ad to try to take heat off Democrats who wouldn’t condemn moveon.org for their shameful “Betray Us
” ad attacking then Iraq-war commander David Petraeus.
Now, in Anchorage — and no doubt all over MSNBC’s talking-heads shows today — the myth lives on. The ADN item accused: “In the best Karl Rove fashion, Chambliss the draft-evader attacked Cleland the war hero for being soft on terrorism. Distorting Cleland’s votes about workplace rules for the new Homeland Security Department employees, Chambliss portrayed him as a tool of terrorists like Osama bin Laden.”
Saxby Chambliss, of course, did not question Cleland’s patriotism. He ran an ad that, yes, included images of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, as well as images of the American military. They were reminders we’re at war. The ad attacked Cleland for voting 11 times against a homeland-security bill that would have freed the president from some union mandates in setting up the new department. Agree or disagree with the bill (which was co-sponsored by then-senator Zell Miller of Georgia, a Democrat), the non-union employee measure, or the establishment of the department itself (National Review wasn’t a fan of the idea), but it was absolutely fair game for Chambliss to bring it up during the course of his campaign for Cleland’s Senate seat.
As NR editor Rich Lowry has written of the incident, “If you can’t criticize the Senate votes of a senator in a Senate race, what can you criticize?”
Some of the criticisms of Sarah Palin are fair. Some of them are unfair. There’s no question about the category into which this latest criticism falls: Blatantly unfair. Historically dishonest. If the Anchorage Daily News wants to complain that Sarah Palin’s spent too much time away from her state already, fine. But by lending her star power to Chambliss’s reelection-runoff bid, she’s not campaigning for “a reprehensible Republican chicken hawk.” If you want Jim Martin to win, fine. But you do him, your readers, American politics – and, yes, your governor — a disservice by keeping a political lie alive.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.