Thursday, August 5, 2010

Garber’s Swift Boat Ads And Dean’s Challenge

Ross Garber waited quite a while before expressing his interest in running for attorney general as a Republican. This sort of thing may be inconvenient to party nominated candidates, but so long as it’s still a free country, Mr. Garber is free to be his potty old self, and everyone else in the party should be prepared to humor him.

But Mr. Garber now has chosen to wrest votes from attorney general party nominee Martha Dean through a series of “swift-boating” ads. “Swift-boating” is a term that came into currency during the presidential run of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts when it was felt that Kerry’s supporters that his opponents were pumping false and toxic ads into the political bloodstream.

Garber so far has released, a little more than a week before the primary, two swift-boat ads, either one of which is worthy of the most shameless of ex-President Richard Nixon’s worst subalterns.

The Garber-garbage ads tear out of context a Dean quote suggesting an honest discussion concerning the decriminalization of some drugs, plops butchered quotes into the more lurid of the brochures and surrounds it with pictures of crack dealers and discarded drug paraphernalia. Rick Green, a columnist and blogger for the Hartford Courant ran without comment pictures of the ad on his blog site.

This is the first of Mr. Garber’s ads posted on Mr. Green’s blog site:

The back of the brochure shows a placid and smiling Mr. Garber and a drug user bending listlessly over a bottle of liquor. Perhaps the despondent drug user has just read Mr. Garber’s political ad.

Even political writers who have placed themselves sympathetically and politically in Mr. Garber’s corner and have occasionally indulged in slipshod mud-slinging – Mr. Green, for instance, thinks “Mad Martha,” as he calls Mrs. Dean, has “cyborg blue eyes” – must have been a bit unsettled by such scurrilous brochures.

So, the question arises: What to do about last minute Tricky Dickey ads sent out so near a primary that they cannot be effectively challenged?

The intent of such ads is to capture the campaign narrative through a series of red herrings that, issued close to primary D-Day, cannot be effectively answered. Dean’s response to a charge that she would facilitate drug dealing would not fit on the bumper sticker of a car, still less in a campaign brochure. And relying on John Henry Newman’s remark that “if you fling mud, some will stick; stick but not stain” seems hardly appropriate, because that kind of a permissive, turn-the-other-cheek posture is not a sufficient discouragement to those proficient in the fine art of mud-slinging.

One could reply in kind with a brochure, for instance, showing Ross -- a lawyer who has chosen to build up his new law practice by defending political crooks -- surrounded by notorious mobsters such as Al Capone, with lurid shots of the bloody bodies left behind after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But if one’s objection to mud slinging is that it falls beyond the bounds of civil discourse, one can hardly engage in compensating scurrilities one abhors.

One real reporter at the Courant noted in one of his dispatches that Mrs. Dean said only that she would welcome an intelligent discussion, presumably among knowledgeable people interested in the decriminalization of drug use, with a view to settling the problem by means more effective than those currently in use.

Both Mr. Garber and Mr. Green seem to be unaware that the decriminalization discussion has been floating around for decades. Indeed, some ideological barriers that have long separated conservatives and liberals on the question of decriminalization were dismantled years ago by two of the most prominent conservatives of our time, William Buckley and noble prize winning economist Milton Friedman.

“Liberals at the Courant took issue with Dean’s remark that the legislature should consider drug legalization, a political position long embraced by some liberals and others who even now wince when they consider that prisons are bursting at the seams with people arrested for relatively minor drug offenses. It has been years since conservative economist Milton Friedman plausibly argued that the legalization of some drugs would relieve social problems. More than seven years ago, Bill Buckley shocked his brethren by agitating for the legalization of marijuana as a test to probe the question: Would legalization be more harmful than a present policy that packs jails mostly with young black men drawn into gangs by the lure of lawless money making.”

The passage quoted above is taken from an earlier blog and column -- which included embedded links that carry the reader to a column by Mr. Buckley and a video interview with Mr. Friedman. It answers a challenge presented by Green on his blog:


“You sound like a true RINO. Decriminalize drugs? I don't recall many conservatives advancing this cause.

“Mad Martha deserves everything she gets. She ought to have the backbone to defend her own viewpoints.


In the meantime, Dean’s suggestion really should bear fruit. There should be a discussion in the state on the benefits of continuing a costly drug criminalization program that, some conservatives and enlightened liberals would be willing to argue, has turned the distribution of drugs in the poorer parts of cities over to criminals who are not likely to be thwarted by Mr. Garber’s and Mr. Green’s opposition to alternative strategies proposed by Buckley, Friedman and these guys:

See Chris Powell's column here.


  1. 1. Ross Garber entered late because it looked like his sister-in-law, Susan Bysiewicz, might be the Demopcratic candidate and he did not want to run against her for family reasons.

    2. The comment "Ross -- a lawyer who has chosen to build up his new law practice by defending political crooks" is beneath you - defending politicians, even crooked ones, is an honorable profession. Unfortunately, Dean has also chosen to attack Garber for doing this.

    3. While not exactly swift-boating, which consists of making up lies out of whole cloth, these ads are deplorable.

    4. Moreover, support for decriminalizing the use of narcotics is commendable and no more should be critcized than lawyers representing criminals.

  2. On 2, perhaps I didn’t make the point clearly enough: I was setting up a parallel universe. What would an ad issued by Dean that was as full of distortions as the ad issued by Garber look like? It would assume falsely that lawyers who defend political crooks are disreputable, and all the rest follows: the clipped, distorting quotes, the suggestive pictures (St. Valentines Day Massacre) and so on. By the way, Dean never said that it is disreputable for lawyers to defend crooks, political or otherwise. She said something else – which was promptly distorted.

    On 4, you are a minority of one. Congratulations.

  3. She said this :

    “Some people are hired guns,” Dean said in an interview. “Just like prostitutes, you know?”

    and this:

    "She accused Garber of representing corrupt politicians and mobsters. Dean got her crime bombs confused and even lumped Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti in with the mobsters.

    Blogger would not let me include links!

  4. Trying again

    Links to above



  5. The first quote is this one: "A lawyer who does criminal defense work, as my Republican opponent has, that's fine," Dean said. "But to defend criminal public servants at the same time you are building a public career is an unseemly connection." The operative word is “unseemly.” Your “unseemly” is my “seemly.” Myself, I would not prevent lawyers from defending the Al Capones of the world; according to the quote above, neither would Dean(Criminal defense work is OK). That kind of prohibition would beggar some lawyers, and everyone in the U.S. certainly deserves a competent defense. If Garber had said as much in his campaign literature, both of us would be patting him on the back rather than spanking him on his fanny. In any case, it's not my purpose to defend Dean when she goes off the rails. She's capable of defending herself. I simply insist that she's an honorable woman; I think Garber is also honorable, but he did slip off the rails.

    Rennie is a good social commentator and has a reasonable and trustworthy political head. I think his judgment is sound. If he says Dean mistook her criminals, I am ready to believe him. Politicians who make such errors on the political stump should be given an opportunity to correct them – Garber too.

  6. >>swift-boating, which consists of making up lies out of whole cloth

    Those ads were accurate, which is why they were so devastating. There was a substantial reward offered to anyone who could disprove any of the claims, no one could.

    What specifically were lies made up out of whole cloth?

  7. You're missing her point - which is that it's OK for lawyers to do that - BUT they shouldn't run for public office.

  8. @ Charles

    This lie:

    A group funded by the biggest Republican campaign donor in Texas began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which former Swift Boat veterans claim Kerry lied to get one of his two decorations for bravery and two of his three purple hearts.
    But the veterans who accuse Kerry are contradicted by Kerry's former crewmen, and by Navy records.

    One of the accusers says he was on another boat "a few yards" away during the incident which won Kerry the Bronze Star, but the former Army lieutenant whom Kerry plucked from the water that day backs Kerry's account. In an Aug. 10 opinion piece in the conservative Wall Street Journal, Rassmann (a Republican himself) wrote that the ad was "launched by people without decency" who are "lying" and "should hang their heads in shame."

    And on Aug. 19, Navy records came to light also contradicting the accusers. One of the veterans who says Kerry wasn't under fire was himself awarded a Bronze Star for aiding others "in the face of enemy fire" during the same incident.

  9. It's customary to shoot the messenger here, right? :) Annenberg isn't as out there as Media Matters or FAIR, but they trend that direction.

    Do you really want to get in the weeds on this one? It won't be difficult to dig up material that would contradict the Annenberg report. I see a link war coming. :) I don't doubt he fished that guy out of the water, the Bronze Star may have been earned.

    It's a little OT and the primaries are a major consumer of time right now, but briefly:

    Kerry was in-country less than four months on a one year assignment and collected a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts. That's a LOT of hardware in such a short amount of time. Was he putting himself in for medals every time he bumped his head? And he used the three Purple Hearts to request a trip home eight months before the end of his tour, then requested separation from active duty so he could run for Congress.

    This is from Kerry's testimony before Congress in 1971:

    "They personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam."

    Similar words can be found in NVA propaganda from that period. I believe Kerry also coined the term "baby killer." Who is lying and who should hang their head in shame?

  10. “You're missing her point - which is that it's OK for lawyers to do that - BUT they shouldn't run for public office.”

    It may be a matter if interpretation, but what Mrs. Dean said was this: It is unseemly to build a public career while defending politicians accused of wrongdoing. She did not say criminal defense lawyers should not run for office. That is the way her statement was represented by lazy or partisan readers in some news accounts. She did not even say that that those who defend corrupt politicians should not run for office. She said that running for public office under those circumstances was unseemly. Some will agree with her, some not. As I say, your unseemly is my seemly, and there is plenty of room for disagreement on the point. But in representing the point, we should be careful to give the devil his due and refrain from purposely misunderstanding what has been said. Some commentators – who are by no means disinterested – have done this. My objections are aimed at those who for tendentious reasons misunderstand what has been said. That is why I objected initially to Garber’s ads. I was very pleased to see that you objected to them also. Chris Powell did also here:

    But the people who are objecting to all this – a little army of three in number so far, including you – are not likely to reach the audience those ads were aimed at, a little more than a week before the primaries.