The Campaign Spot

The Conventional Wisdom’s Twisted Sense of ‘Dirty Campaigning’

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Our Twisted Political Culture’s Bizarre Sense of What Is ‘Dirty Campaigning’

A former steelworker, in a new ad from Priorities USA, the SuperPAC run by former Obama staffers:

“When Mitt Romney and Bain shut down the plant, I lost my healthcare. A short time after that, my wife became ill. I don’t know how long she was sick… I took her to the Jackson County , and admitted her for pneumonia, and that’s when they found the cancer. By then it was stage four. She passed away in 22 days.”

The “short time” mentioned in the ad: Five and a half years later, in 2006. Romney left Bain in 1999 to run the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. The layoff in question occurred in 2001.

Oh, hey, and CNN found she had health insurance for another two years after the layoff, anyway. So you can’t even argue that the husband’s layoff took away her health insurance.

At Hot Air, Allahpundit observes, “You know what’s really interesting about this spot? It’s not even a health-care ad. It’d be sleazy under any circumstances, but there’d at least be a concrete policy angle if Burton was selling it as an argument for, say, single-payer, to decouple insurance from employment. He’s not. There appears to be no actual policy argument here at all, unless The One now opposes layoffs on principle, for fear that someone somewhere might be left without insurance. Is that where our very pro-business president — seriously, just ask him — is now at? As John Sexton says, does this mean O himself is on the hook until 2014 for any deaths that resulted from GM dealerships being closed in 2009? I thought workers bore some responsibility to find a new job with insurance after they’re laid off, but if he wants to take the blame for human tragedies at Government Motors, fine by me.”

After I lamented that “there was a time when presidential campaigns did not casually accuse their opponent of murder,” some ninny on Twitter brought up Willie Horton.

It’s kind of amazing how certain news events and controversies can come to be remembered as the precise opposite of reality. In many circles, mentioning the name “Willie Horton” is now a synonym for dirty campaigning or “below the belt” tactics, isn’t it? I’ll bet at this moment many readers are jumping to point out that “it was Al Gore who first mentioned Willie Horton!” (Actually, it was in one of the 1988 Democratic presidential primary debates that Gore mentioned that two furloughed prisoners had committed new murders while on weekend leave – the same ‘weekends away’ program that covered Horton, but Gore was referring to different criminals.)

Permit me to attempt to shovel off massive layers of accumulated conventional wisdom detritus here: Good for Al Gore! The Massachusetts weekend furlough program and criminals like Willie Horton completely deserved to be discussed, as it was a terrific, vivid example of bad judgment on Dukakis’ part. To refresh:

Horton had been sentenced to life imprisonment and was incarcerated at the Concord Correctional Facility in Massachusetts when he was released in June 1986 as part of a weekend furlough program.

While on furlough in April 1987, Horton twice raped a woman in Oxon Hill, Md. He stabbed and pistol-whipped her fiancé.

At the time, Michael Dukakis was the Democratic governor of Massachusetts. While Dukakis had not initiated the furlough program, he supported it as a measure to help with criminal rehabilitation.

After the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that this right extended to first-degree murderers, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill prohibiting furloughs for such inmates. However, in 1976, Dukakis vetoed this bill.

Thus, the program remained in effect, and Dukakis continued to support it.

Michael Dukakis thought that denying weekends away from prison from convicted murderers was a bad idea, and so he ensured that these weekend excursions would continue. And two people were murdered as a result of this policy, separately from Willie Horton’s raping and stabbing rampage. This may rank as among the worst ideas in the history of the criminal justice system. This was the precise opposite of “dirty politics” or a “smear campaign” or some nonsensical charge.


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