A Thousand Cuts
Unscrupulous personal attacks can drive women out of politics.

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina appears on Good Morning America, April 2, 2012. (ABC)


‘One of Margaret Thatcher’s defining characteristics as a politician was a need for enemies. To fuel the aggression that drove her career she had to find new antagonists all the time to be successfully demonized, confronted and defeated.”

John Campbell in his book The Iron Lady devotes an entire chapter to this unusual premise. In simple terms, Campbell maintains that the “power” attributed to Mrs. Thatcher was partly of her own making, an aura created by picking fights with adversaries she knew she could defeat. Since there is no way to verify this contention, let us consider a larger and more fundamental question: Do women in politics set themselves up to be attacked, or are women in politics attacked because they can be — because it is considered acceptable?

Speculation about the potential downfall of Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has spanned her entire tenure. The rumors have been constant and rampant. Since her election, legal and ethics challenges have regularly been filed against her. Lest we forget, it was claimed that the governor had misused health-care-reform funds; this case made national news when a Democratic congressman piled on. The Department of Justice eventually dropped the case, and late last month, a circuit court ruled that there were “no ethics violations” in the actions taken by the governor.

Then, late last week, new rumors crescendoed of an indictment that was purportedly forthcoming. A writer for the Palmetto Public Record website asserted:

Two well-placed legal experts have independently told Palmetto Public Record they expect the U.S. Department of Justice to issue an indictment against South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on charges of tax fraud as early as this week. A highly-ranked federal official has also privately confirmed rumblings of an investigation and possible indictment of the governor, though the official was not aware of the specific timeframe.

The next day, a writer for the American Thinker website, Rick Moran, picked up the story, claiming that

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley may be in trouble with the IRS. Specifically, the investigation that is currently underway centers on a Sikh temple built by her father, that she managed the finances for as late as 2003. Fraud is alleged in the handling of the contracts.

In a mea culpa article the next day, Moran wrote:

My face is a little red this morning having printed what we now know is a false story about the imminent indictment of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for tax fraud relating to the construction of a Sikh temple involving her family. I’m not the only one with egg on my face this morning. Most major media outlets picked up the Palmetto Public Record report, supposedly sourced by three independent government officials, about the coming indictment of Haley.

According to Moran, the IRS wrote a letter to the Sikh organization that was building the temple, telling it that no investigation was pending.

Repeated erroneous allegations like these can create a scenario of death by a thousand cuts. The metaphorical death is not just that of the public figure under attack, but also that of the political system itself, which becomes an object of contempt over time, resulting in voter apathy. After a while, the general public as well as the politician under attack become worn down. This happens slowly, in many unnoticed increments; often the cut is not perceived as unfair until it’s too late.


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