Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eric Hovde summons ghosts of Nixon and McCarthy, calls Baldwin a communist

Conservative candidate for senate uses history's worst campaign tactics for political gain

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Eric Hovde is gaining traction. This past week, he gained the all-important (though not necessarily exclusive) endorsement of Wisconsin Right-to-Life, seen by many as necessary for any GOP candidate to obtain in order to have a chance in the primary this fall.

Yet Hovde, whose political resume is almost non-existent (but claims to be qualified for office based on his business career), has had some problems with recent comments. Recently, Hovde stated he was sick of the media too frequently portraying poor people's woes as "sob stories."
Stop always writing about, 'Oh, the person couldn't get, you know, their food stamps or this or that.' You know, I saw something the other day - it's like, another sob story, and I'm like, 'But what about what's happening to the country and the country as a whole?' That's going to devastate everybody.
Insensitive comments aside, Hovde is again in the news for a statement he made against his potential Democratic rival, current U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Hovde claimed that Baldwin was the most liberal member of Congress, and implies that she's a Marxist, among other things.
Her philosophy has its roots in Marxism, communism, socialism, extreme liberalism -- she calls it progressivism -- versus mine, which is rooted in free-market conservatism.
The Baldwin campaign pushed back hard against Hovde's comments:
Unlike Tammy, who has worked across party lines to crack down on China’s cheating, protect Wisconsin manufacturing jobs, and invest in small businesses, Hovde clearly has no interest in bipartisan work to create jobs and move our economic recovery forward.
Hovde's tactics are alarming, and fail to create any positive dialogue in the campaign. It's one thing to deride a candidate for the positions they hold, as Hovde has done at other times. It's entirely different to use outdated scare tactics like calling someone a communist in order to gain "cred" for your campaign.

It hearkens back to a time more than half a century ago when Republicans made similar claims against their liberal opponents. Most Wisconsinites remember the lesson of Joseph McCarthy's "red scare." As the junior senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy famously (and repeatedly) claimed that he held a list "in [his] hand" of government leaders and agency heads.

The number of communists on that list, however, continually changed, and McCarthy's tirade was eventually discredited as nothing more than what it was: a bunch of hot air in order to receive political capital. Even President Eisenhower despised McCarthy's tactics, and in 1954 the Senator was publicly humiliated in front of national TV cameras:

Not surprisingly, another Republican from that era also engaged in scare tactics. In a U.S. Senate campaign against Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, then-Congressman Richard Nixon laid out several outlandish attacks towards his liberal opponent, calling her a communist sympathizer -- even stating that she was "pink right down to her underwear."

Other attacks against the female Congresswoman alleged that she "slept with a Jew" -- a fact that was true, since her husband was Jewish (but that part was always conveniently left out). Some phone calls to Californian citizens also simply told the respondent "Did you know Helen Gahagan Douglas was a Communist?" and then hung up with no further explanation.

Hovde's recent attacks mimick Nixon's strategy almost to a T. Calling a liberal a communist is the oldest trick in the book -- and also the most deceiving. Were it not such a serious charge, it'd almost be laughable. To consider Tammy Baldwin a communist would be like comparing Scott Walker to Hitler -- and though many may dislike Walker for a plethora of reasons, he's no Fuhrer. Baldwin, on the other hand, and unlike Walker, consistently reaches across the aisle when it's possible to get legislation in Congress passed. Hardly the actions of a "communist."

Lastly, Hovde's comments are hard to stomach for yet another reason. The charge that Baldwin is the "most liberal member of Congress" is one blown out of proportion, and ignores the fact that the rating is an inconsistent one to make from year to year. It's a charge that conservative politicians make against their Democratic opponents time-and-time again. Remember when John Kerry was the most liberal? Or Barack Obama?

In fact, Baldwin was named most liberal in 2011, tied with ten other members of Congress -- but in 2012, she was named 21st most liberal, tied with three others.

The rankings themselves -- published annually by the National Journal -- have been widely criticized, by both liberals AND conservatives. For instance, a vote last decade to support the 9/11 Commission's recommendations was determined to be a "liberal" decision, despite the commission being bipartisan.

In the end, Eric Hovde's talking points hardly amount to anything meaningful. They're baseless attempts to discredit Tammy Baldwin by erroneously placing labels that don't belong next to her name. If this is the best that Hovde can do, his campaign is in serious trouble -- and if the tactics of the Republican Party haven't changed since the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, it means that the GOP doesn't think much of YOU, the voter, to make an informed decision based on the issues.

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