Red Herring Politics

One useful thing to remember is that in politics, as in sports, it helps to keep your eye on the ball. Let's see how politicians try to distract voters from the issues just before a close election.
Thomas-sowell

In an election year, this is the time for an "October surprise"‒ some sensational, and usually irrelevant, revelation to distract the voters from serious issues. This year, there are October surprises from coast to coast. There are a lot of incumbents who don't want to discuss serious issues ‒ especially their own track records.

This year's October surprise that is getting the biggest play in the media is the revelation that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman once employed a housekeeper ‒ at $23 an hour ‒ who turned out to be an illegal immigrant. It is great political theater, with activist lawyer Gloria Allred putting her arm protectively around the unhappy-looking woman.
       
But why anyone should be unhappy at getting $23 an hour for housekeeping is by no means clear. Maybe she is unhappy because Meg Whitman fired her when she learned that her housekeeper was an illegal immigrant, despite false documents that indicated she was legal when she was hired.
       
What is Meg Whitman supposed to be guilty of? Not being able to tell false documents from real ones? Is that what voters are supposed to use to determine who to vote for as governor of California? A far more important question is whether voters can tell false issues from real ones.
       
October surprises are especially phony when they are used on behalf of someone with a long track record in government, like Jerry Brown, who has held government jobs ranging from state attorney general to mayor of Oakland to governor of the state.
       
What did Jerry Brown do the last time he was governor? That ought to tell us a lot more than whether Meg Whitman is a document expert. She is not running for a job as a document expert.
       
One appointment by Governor Jerry Brown ought to tell us a lot about his ideology. His most famous ‒ or infamous ‒ appointment was making Rose Bird chief justice of the California supreme court.
       
She over-ruled 64 consecutive death penalty verdicts and upheld none. Apparently no judge or jury could ever give a murderer a trial perfect enough to suit Rose Bird.
       
To hear Rose Bird and her supporters tell it, she was just "upholding the law." But, fortunately, the California voters saw right through that pretense, and realized that she was doing just the opposite ‒ imposing her own personal opposition to the death penalty in the guise of interpreting the law. No California chief justice appointee had ever been voted off the bench by the voters before Rose Bird, but she was roundly defeated when 67 percent of the voters voted against her in a confirmation election required by California law.
       
Two of her like-mind colleagues on the California supreme court were likewise voted off the bench. They, too, were appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.
       
The question is not whether you are for or against the death penalty. If you don't like the death penalty, you can vote to repeal it. But it is not the job of judges to deprive the voters of their right to choose the laws they want to live under.
       
This is part of a much larger arrogant political ideology, in which anointed elites impose their own notions, in utter disregard of the laws passed by the people's elected representatives.
       
At one time, Governor Jerry Brown was riding high in the Democratic Party, and was considered a rising prospect for that party's nomination for President of the United States. Then something happened that told us all what kind of man he was.
       
There was an infestation of Mediterranean fruit flies out in California's agricultural heartland in the interior valleys. Despite being urged to allow spraying of insecticide out in the valleys, to nip the infestation in the bud, Governor Brown pandered to the environmental extremists and refused.
       
The net result was that the "Med flies," as they were called, spread from the valleys out into cities and towns as far west as the San Francisco Bay Area. Faced with a major political disaster, Jerry Brown finally authorized spraying ‒ over a vastly larger area than when he was first asked. That fiasco spared us a Jerry Brown administration in Washington.
       
No wonder his supporters have sprung an October surprise about Meg Whitman's housekeeper. They need a distraction from his record.

Some of the longest-serving members of Congress, whose party has overwhelming majorities in both houses, are having far closer election races than they are used to. These include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, not to mention 18-year veteran Senator Barbara Boxer.
      
Despite their long records, they seem to want to talk about everything except their records. They could tell us why they voted for ObamaCare and huge stimulus bills, without time enough to read them. Instead, they have come up with enough red herrings to stock an aquarium.
      
One of the big distracting talking points is that the Republicans in Congress have been "the party of No." Given the overwhelming majorities of the Democrats in both houses, in addition to their control of the White House, whether the Republicans said "yes," "no" or "maybe" could not stop the Democrats from doing anything they wanted to do.
      
It should also be noted that the Democrats were in power in Congress before President Obama got to the White House. So "the mess" that he constantly reminds us he "inherited" includes runaway spending by Congressional Democrats, of whom Senator Barack Obama was one of the more prominent big spenders.
      
Usually, the incumbents can talk about their "experience." But experience at what? Deception? Earmarks? Reckless spending?
      
Senator Harry Reid is playing the race card, saying that he can't see how any Hispanic can vote for Republicans. But this is the same Harry Reid who in 1993, rejected "those who ask us to wink at illegal immigration" and warned against having "the social and cultural makeup" of the country "radically altered" by these immigrants.
      
In 1993, Senator Reid introduced a bill ‒ the Immigration Stabilization Act ‒ to cut back on all immigration, both legal and illegal.
      
Senator Reid said: "Our federal wallet is stretched to the limit by illegal aliens getting welfare, food stamps, medical care and other benefits, often without paying taxes." He said, "Safeguards like welfare and free medical care are in place to boost Americans in need of short-term assistance," and added: "These programs were not meant to entice freeloaders and scam artists from around the world."
      
Today, of course, Senator Reid is singing an entirely different tune. He has what Thorstein Veblen once called a "versatility of convictions." So do a lot of "experienced" politicians.
      
Instead of talking about the track records of people who have been wielding power in Washington for years, much of the mainstream follows the scent of the red herrings that have been dragged across their trail and focuses on the personal lives of the candidates who are challenging the incumbents.
      
Whether it is Meg Whitman's housekeeper or remarks that Christine O'Donnell made when she was a teenager, or how much money Carly Fiorina made when she was a corporate CEO, the media are right on it ‒ and right off the serious issues about what the incumbents have been doing to this country.
      
If everyone who made silly remarks when they were teenagers were prevented from being elected, at least half the elective offices in the country would be vacant. And since when is earning a high income in private industry a disqualification for holding public office?
      
The Obama administration has fewer people with real world experience in the private sector than any other administration in years. Maybe if they had more people with practical experience in the economy, we wouldn't be in the mess that politicians created.
      
The big question for the election next month is whether the voters keep their eye on the ball and judge candidates by what policies they advocate or whether they can be thrown off the track by red herrings.
      
We have already seen in 2008 what can happen when voters fail to pay attention to a presidential candidate's track record, and let themselves be dazzled by rhetoric, symbolism and media hype. We are losing not only our jobs but our country ‒ and this could be our last chance to stop the Obama-Pelosi-Reid juggernaut.

Thomas Sowell is a Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. He has published dozens of books on economics, education, race, and other topics. His most recent book is The Housing Boom and Bust, from April 2009.




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