By Jim Beam/American Press [Pointed and informative journalism that deserves a wider audience!]
U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s misleading and malicious political ads targeting state Rep. John Bel Edwards, his Democratic opponent for governor, are reminiscent of another sad chapter in American history. A U.S. senator was involved in that one, too. More on that later.
A Vitter television spot says electing Edwards would be like making President Obama Louisiana’s next governor, which is about as far-fetched as the devious mind can fathom. However, the worst part of the spot is the accusation that Edwards wants to release “5,500 dangerous thugs (and) drug dealers back into our neighborhoods,” which is also a figment of the Vitter campaign’s creative imagination.
Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, told The Times-Picayune the ad appears aimed at stoking fears among white voters that Edwards will unleash dangerous black criminals into safe neighborhoods.
Robert Mann, Manship chair of journalism at LSU, in a story for salon.com, said, “Vitter’s objective is, quite simply, to smear Edwards by reviving and exploiting Louisiana’s fearful, racist past.”
Edwards said, “I have never supported reducing our incarceration rate by releasing criminals from jail, as the smear ad suggests. Rather, my statement about inmates in the speech referenced was about reducing the prison population through long-term solutions without harming public safety.”
“… The (Louisiana) Sheriffs’ Association, which enthusiastically endorsed me yesterday, has no issue with this plan,” Edwards said.
Vitter has a consistent history of campaigning against other public figures rather than telling voters what he wants to do for them. The Advocate of Baton Rouge traced that trend back to another Edwards when Vitter ran for the state Legislature.
“If history is a guide, expect Vitter in particular to be a barroom brawler,” the newspaper said. “In each of his races, he has run against something — former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards and the state Democratic Party when he won elections to the state House in the 1990s; the past and the status quo when he defeated former Republican Gov. David Treen in a special congressional election in 1999; and Washington and national Democrats in his two Senate victories.”
The Treen attacks by Vitter were especially hurtful for one of the most respected and decent men ever to hold public office in Louisiana. John Treen, Dave Treen’s brother, never forgave Vitter, The Advocate said. John Treen said his brother never fully recovered emotionally from the defeat.
John Treen said, “To distort my brother’s record, I thought, was despicable. The idea that someone made a deal (not to attack one another) and broke his word got to him.”
Democrat Charlie Melancon, who lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race to Vitter, was also linked to Obama. He told the newspaper Vitter would “paint a less than truthful picture” of Rep. Edwards.
Most voters who say they can’t vote for Edwards say it’s because he’s too liberal. He is definitely not a hard-core conservative, but he lives by conservative values. Edwards’ most effective TV spot sums up the Vitter strategy well.
“… For the next few weeks, David Vitter will spend millions of dollars lying about my record, my values and my service to our country and our state,” Edwards says. “He’s desperate. All he offers is deception and hypocrisy. I won’t sell my soul to win an election. I live by the West Point honor code. I will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. David Vitter wouldn’t last a day at West Point. It’s time Louisiana demands a little integrity.”
Those who worry about Edwards’ support for raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid or other legislative goals forget that the winner of this election has to deal with a Legislature that is controlled by Republicans.
Although there are some legislative runoffs, Republicans are guaranteed to have at least 24 and maybe two more of their colleagues in the 39-member Senate. The 105-member House will have at least 60 Republicans.
Nothing is going to become law without Republican support, and to believe that Edwards is going to turn the state upside down doesn’t add up.
What a pity the candidates can’t be judged on how they plan to put Louisiana back on track after eight years of budget deficits, higher education cuts and general distrust of state government.
Now, back to that earlier sad chapter in American history. The central figure in that episode was the late U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis. McCarthy made sensational but unproved charges that Communists had infiltrated the government.
A story from U.S. Senate archives said in the spring of 1954 McCarthy picked a fight with the U.S. Army, insisting there was poor security at a top-secret facility. The Army hired Joseph Welch, a Boston attorney, to defend it. McCarthy, at one of the hearings, said one of Welch’ attorneys had ties to a Communist organization.
On June 9, 1954, Welch said before a national TV audience, “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”
McCarthy tried to continue his attack, but Welch interrupted with a line that became historic and led to Senate censure of McCarthy and the eventual end of his political career.
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator,” Welch said. “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
Sen. Vitter needs to ask himself that same question before he continues his slanted and vicious attacks on Rep. Edwards. The senator’s campaign is way off track.