One of the biggest problems with the media is the way conventional wisdom, even if it’s untrue or misleading, becomes accepted as part of a narrative and pops up over and over again as “background” in successive reports on a developing story. It happened with Joe Wilson’s lies, and it’s happening again in the coverage of the House leadership race.
I’m with the editors in supporting John Shadegg for House Majority Leader. His voting record and demonstrated understanding of the philosophy of limited government make him the principled leader the Republican party needs right now. Even so, a phony bit of conventional wisdom about one of his opponents, Roy Blunt, has become part of the media’s narrative on this race and needs to be debunked.
It involves Blunt’s efforts to insert a provision into the 2002 Homeland Security bill. Most media stories portray the incident as Time magazine did in its most recent story about the House race:
In the fall of 2002, Blunt infuriated House Republicans by trying to insert into a Homeland Security bill a provision that would have increased penalties on the sale of stolen cigarettes. The provision was strongly backed by Philip Morris, and Blunt was at the time dating Abigail Perlman, now his wife, who is a lobbyist for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris. A Blunt aide denied that the Congressman was working at the direction of lobbyists.
Blunt said he included the provision in the Homeland Security bill because of documented connections between contraband cigarette sales and funding for terrorist groups. What Time and most other news accounts leave out is that the provision later became law with broad congressional support. That the provision benefited Philip Morris is incidental. It was bad form to try and slip it into the bill at the last minute, but we’re not talking about a corporate-welfare boondoggle here. Show of hands: Do any of the groups now attacking Blunt oppose harsher penalties for tobacco smugglers?
There are plenty of reasons why Blunt is not the leader the House GOP needs right now. The GOP needs someone who can lead the budget-cutting effort by example, and Blunt’s spending record leaves something to be desired. Most importantly, he’s too closely associated with the big-government conservatism that has defined Bush-era domestic policy. As former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has argued, House Republicans need to take legislative initiative back from the White House and restore the GOP as the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility.
But his tobacco-smuggling provision isn’t the scandal that the media have made it out to be. Conservatives should understand that the real scandal is the GOP spending record over the last five years, and they should support Shadegg because he represents a return to small-government principles.