Columns » John Brummett

Asa finesses, too — and cowers

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Asa Hutchinson says Mike Beebe won’t give a straight answer on gay foster parents. Actually, Beebe gave me an answer on that just the other day. It seemed fairly straight, which is not to vouch for fullness or candor.

This was moments before a man at Beebe’s campaign headquarters handed me a printout of a fresh update on Asa’s campaign Internet blog. It ridiculed one of my columns (not altogether without a remote point) and alleged that Beebe was guilty of “a web of deceit,” “brazen hypocrisy” and of having “clearly lied” on the gay foster care issue.

A straight answer is more than I can say for what we’re getting from the Hutchinson campaign on whether Asa takes personal responsibility for those harsh personal attacks on Beebe.
A few weeks ago, David Kinkade, communications director for Hutchinson, told me that he was the one compiling this blog. But he said I could consider the blog’s words tantamount to Asa’s own official pronouncements.

You might recall that I wanted Hutchinson to apologize for misquotes of me on this blog. But he never did. That’s fine. I’m not apologizing to him, either, for calling him a brazen hypocrite his own self.

That was because he asserted that a pro-choice position separated one from acceptable Arkansas values, then cavorted with the radically pro-choice Rudy Giuliani to try to drum up money and energy for his idling gubernatorial campaign.

At least I’m willing to tell you that those were my words, my honest sentiments, my proud certainties.

But now, asked by the Little Rock newspaper whether those personal attacks on Beebe on his campaign blog were effectively Asa’s own words, Kinkade Clintonizes.

He says he wrote the blog item in collaboration with unidentified others. He says the candidate himself knew the “message” and approved it, but didn’t see that particular wording.

Now, for context: Sometimes I write about electoral tactics. I explain, for example, that Democrats must finesse certain social issues to appeal to rural conservatives while also keeping the liberal base happy.

Whenever I report such plain truths about Democratic tactics, Asa’s blog jumps me for condoning dishonesty and Beebe for being dishonest.

That’s the remotely fair criticism to which I was referring earlier. Over the years I’ve become more forgiving of political finesses than some journalists. I feel for Asa, for example, in his need to balance the two wings of his party on immigration: The sane and the not.

Criticism from a politician — or, to be precise, the politician’s designated Internet hatchet man — is a small price to pay for sharing honest insight with readers.

Here’s another Asa finesse: He employs this Internet hatchet man to write hateful things about his opponent on the Internet so that he can take advantage of any damage inflicted without bearing personal responsibility for the words.

Finally, here’s Beebe’s answer on gay foster parents: He said he told a gay group in a private meeting that he would not sign any unconstitutional bill banning gay foster parents. Here it's Beebe who Clintonizes, the Clintonizing word being “unconstitutional.” He said he has a problem with putting young foster children, preschool and grade-school age, in gay households. He says that’s not because of gayness, but because of “external pressures” in the current cultural climate. He likens those to the powerful external pressures he faced or merely sensed as the young son of a poor single mother who moved around a lot and had a last name different from his. He wouldn’t elaborate, saying it was too personal.

A postscript: The point of Asa’s blog may be to bait people like me into writing about something that otherwise only dozens would see, thus spreading the message without spending money. If so, it works.

A candidate for governor making harsh personal attacks on his opponent without standing personally behind the incendiary words, but cowering instead behind a designated Internet hatchet man — I’ll tell readers about that every time.


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