Columns » John Brummett

Blanche goes bogus

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On the day that Lt. Gov. Bill Halter formally accepted the draft of national left-wing activists and announced he would run in the Democratic primary against U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a person close to Lincoln told me Blanche was going to get tough.

There is a difference, though, between getting tough and getting bogus. Lincoln's first salvo was dishonest. The second was a smear. It takes some doing to make a sympathetic figure of Halter — cold, humorless and imperious opportunist that he is. Lincoln's accomplishing it was her second recent magic trick. Her first was appearing to be on all sides of health care reform at the same time.

Her opening dishonesty was a little television commercial of hers that you probably liked. In it, Blanche directly confronts a negative television ad against her, paid for by national labor unions, and closes by scoffing that Halter had promised her he'd run a positive campaign. She concludes with the signature spunkiness of a self-professed “one tough lady,” saying snidely of this promise: “That didn't last long.”

But Halter didn't make that ad, which Lincoln knew full well. Halter's own TV commercials as of this writing have been worse than positive: They're sappy and grating with that screeching, goofy football coach.

The ad to which Lincoln refers was an independent commercial from national labor unions that despise her on account of her corporate Republican gradations and have settled on Halter only because he's the only non-reactionary alternative.

It would be illegal for Halter to coordinate his message with any independent outside attacks. Lincoln is blaming him for something said against her without his knowledge.

So Lincoln says Halter should have denounced the ad and is responsible and accountable for it because he hasn't. But that's like saying he's responsible for this column because it attacks Lincoln. But he isn't. I am.

By the way, I'm hearing that Arkansas corporate interests are talking among themselves about producing independent attack ads on Halter to counter the national labor assault on Lincoln. If these commercials occur, surely we can fully expect Lincoln to denounce them.

Now to the smear.

Halter made a lot of money at one point in his life and served on boards of assorted ventures. One was a software company that opened a 58-employee office in India. So that, Lincoln says in a TV ad, makes Halter an outsourcer of America jobs.

He was on a drug company board whose CEO got convicted of making false claims and a third that paid a class-action settlement in a lawsuit accusing it ofoverstating the effectiveness of its drug to fight lung cancer.

Blanche tells us about those in a creepy mailer. This is the cynical demonization process. It's not enough to distinguish yourself from your opponent by performance and policy. You must delve into his past and overstate any association that might make him seem more than someone with whom you merely disagree, but someone who is a sinister threat, near-criminal.

Is staying in public office worth that kind of thing?

Halter was not directly complicit in any of those matters. He is guilty of bumps in the road of business life — of associations with human beings who were less than pristine. None of it bears on his stand on the issues. He does not run for the U.S. Senate to move your job to India and sell you drugs that don't work.

It's Blanche, actually, who has a public record that is obliging to multi-national corporations and drug companies. That doesn't make her bad.

It makes her a bit of a Republican.

This is much like what happened to Lincoln herself in 1998 when one of her desperate Democratic opponents found a record of some old work she'd done as a lobbyist for a South African republic that was a homeland for blacks.

The opponent accused her by implication of being a sinister foreign agent and somehow complicit on race issues. A confirmed Washington insider — that's all she was, and is.

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