Welcome back, fellow seekers of wisdom and truth.
While we wait, e’er so patiently, for Amy Klobuchar and Mark Kennedy to answer your follow-up questions about their Iraq positions, (if you’re just joining us and want to catch up on The Senate Race and Iraq: Who has the best plan? Click here) The Big Question hereby introduces a new feature.
If it works out, we will continue through this campaign year. Or until politicians and their minions stop evading and equivocating.
Under the working title of “Is that a Fact?” we’ll put campaign communications on trial for alleged crimes and misdemeanors against straight talk. And we’ll start with the Minnesota Senate race.
While our title suggests that we are fundamentally testing factuality, a great portion of political bull is slung without perpetration of a technical lie or inaccuracy. The authors and disseminators of much political prevarication apparently believe that reasonable standards of logic, candor, fairness, context, hype, loaded word choices and guilt by association do not apply.
Well, it says here that they should apply.
And those standards should apply not only to the high-profile communications – such as campaign ads or public statements by the candidates – but to the below-the-radar bloviations campaigns and their allies spin out every day, via e-mail, news release, or on TV and radio.
Today, for inaugural purposes, we’ll suggest some deficiencies in two press releases — one by the Republican National Senatorial Committee attacking Amy Klobuchar for allegedly “hiding from the issues,” and one from the DFL accusing Mark Kennedy of trying to “hide his DC ties.” In both cases, the chief assertion is specious and is contradicted by the very evidence cited to support it.
Before providing the chapters and verses, please indulge me in this aside. The fact that our inaugural effort includes one DFL and one Repub example does not mean that “Spinners Repent” will engage in phoney or forced balance. The plan is to call them as we see them, and we’ll welcome your nominations of political communications deserving of scrutiny. But, in oblivious contradiction of that pledge, here’s one from each side:
“Kennedy can’t hide DC ties.”
On March 1, I received an email from the DFL titled: “Kennedy can’t hide DC ties.” (Full text of the accompanying press release here although it doesn’t include that title).
“Today, Karl Rove headlines a Washington, DC, fundraiser for Mark Kennedy’s U.S. Senate campaign. Although Mark Kennedy has tried to distance himself from President Bush for his 2006 campaign, he remains a favorite of the White House and national Republicans.”
It reminds readers of the following, none of which is in dispute:
That Pres. Bush spoke at a Kennedy fund-raiser in Minnesota in December.
Same for Cheney last July.
That Kennedy’s voting record, on average over five years in Congress, has agreed with Bush’s position 91.6 percent of the time and 87 percent in 2005.
That Pres. Bush’s approval rating in Minnesota kinda stinks.
That DFL Chair Brian Melendez says Kennedy is “truly President Bush’s comrade,”
Okay, we get it. The Dems want to run against George W. Bush and portray Kennedy as a Bush lapdog.
They have every right and political reason to do so. And, notwithstanding the low probative value of quotes from any party chair, they’ve got plenty of material. You can expect to hear the theme all year and, as long as they stick to the evidence, “Is That a Fact?” won’t complain.
But the other chief assertion, made in the title of the email (“can’t hide his DC ties”) and three times in the text (“Kennedy has tried to distance himself from President Bush,” “Kennedy is trying to distance himself now” and “Kennedy might be trying to hide his Bush loyalty”), is that Kennedy is trying to cover up his Bush connections.
Exactly how has he done that? By having Bush and Cheney come to town to raise funds for him? By going to Washington to appear with Karl Rove? By voting with Bush’s position only 87 percent of the time in 2005?
The press release offers no evidence that Kennedy is shunning Bush. In fact, it’s replete with evidence that he is doing exactly the opposite.
Okay, maybe not exactly the opposite. Kennedy’s campaign materials use the word “independent” a lot, the word “Republican” not so much. The brochure I’m looking at right now contains no pictures of Kennedy with Bush, and a piece in Roll Call quoted Kennedy campaign spokesperson Heidi Frederickson saying: “We’re not tying ourselves to Bush in any way at all,” she said. “Mark Kennedy is a different kind of Republican–he’s very independent, he bucked the president on [drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] and No Child Left Behind–Bush isn’t going to win this race for him.”
On the other hand, I just searched the Kennedy campaign website for references to Bush. Found nine, eight of them either complimenting Bush or highlighting areas of Kennedy Bush agreement..
And in his hour-long interview with me (transcript) about his Iraq position, Kennedy didn’t distance himself an inch from the Bush “stay until victory” position.
Next case: Klobuchar’s “Hide and Seek”
That same day (3/1/06), I received an e-mail from the National Republican Senatorial Committee headlined: “Amy Klobuchar Plays Hide and Seek With Minnesota Voters; Klobuchar Hides Her Views While Minnesotans Seek Her Positions.” The press release said Klobuchar had not taken a position on the renewal of the Patriot Act, had waited “nearly three months” to state how she would have voted on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, implied that there was something contradictory about Klobuchar’s position on troop withdrawals from Iraq and on the NSA warrantless wiretaps, and ends with the all-caps question: “HOW LONG WILL AMY KLOBUCHAR KEEP HIDING FROM THE ISSUES???”
As with the DFL communiquÃƒÂ©, this is consistent with a clear theme of Republican efforts to soften Klobuchar up for the fall: the claim that she won’t take clear positions.
On the other hand, a second line of attack is that Klobuchar is a member of the “liberal fringe.” In a March 9 press release from the Kennedy campaign itself, spokesperson Fredrickson said:
“Ms. Klobuchar may pretend to be ‘Silent Amy’ in Minnesota, but her actions in D.C. would put her in lock-step with Mark Dayton and the liberal fringe of her party.”
So they simultaneously claim to know where she stands and not know where she stands.
Klobuchar has ignored Republican demands for her position on several issues, but reporters covering the campaign have had little difficulty getting an answer on any issue about which they have inquired.
Sometimes, the answers have been a tad artful, begging obvious follow-ups to fill in the holes. But in all cases of which I’m aware, except the one at the bottom of this post, such follow-ups produce a reasonably clear, complete position.
In fact, in three of the four cases cited in the GOP press release, her position is included in the press release itself.
Klobuchar announced on January 25 – six days before the Senate voted on Alito – that if she were a senator, she would vote no. Like a number of sitting senators, she waited until after the committee hearings concluded to take a position. Can you imagine a press release that said: Klobuchar didn’t take a position on the Alito nomination as quickly as we thought she should, but she did announce a position before the vote? Nah, neither can I.
On Iraq, Klobuchar’s position, which has been on her website since 2005, is that she opposes setting a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops, but favors bringing a significant number home in 2006.
The RNSC press release says that last fall: “Klobuchar did not support setting a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq” but in February of ’06: “Klobuchar said she would support bringing a significant number of troops home this year,” as if there’s some change of position reflected in the two statements. There simply isn’t. Both have been her position all along.
Personally, I thought there was some air in her position about whether the ongoing withdrawal that she recommends should be guided by a timetable (not a deadline) that she wants to see set or by the accomplishment of “milestones and benchmarks” for improving the situation in Iraq, which she also wants to see set. But after an hour-long interview (full transcript here if you are a glutton for punishment,) or a story summarizing it here) I felt she reduced the ambiguity
to within a few inches of clarity.
On the warrantless wiretaps, the press release included a long quote from an MPR interview with Klobuchar, attached to a Republican claim that “Klobuchar dances so no one can tie down her position.” Read the statement for yourself at http://www.nrsc.org/newsdesk/document.aspx?ID=1812 ).
If you overlook her “umms” and “ers” her position is pretty clear: She believes the National Security Agency circumvented the legal requirements for wiretapping. She favors a congressional investigation to consider that question and also to consider Bush’s claim that getting warrants in advance wasn’t practical in this case and, if necessary, to consider changing the law.
The other issue in the Republican press release is the renewal of the Patriot Act (which has since been renewed.)
As of this writing, neither Klobuchar’s campaign website http://www.amyklobuchar.com nor the Star Tribune archives reflect any Klobuchar position on Patriot Act renewal. So I asked and received this statement:
“I would have advocated for changes to the Patriot Act, including provisions
that protect libraries from government searches. With those changes, I
would have voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act.
In the future, however, I will advocate for additional protections for civil liberties, including meaningful judicial review of gag orders, protection of sensitive personal
information, and an expedient sunset period so we can continue to monitor
Hmm. It’s an answer, but it begs this obvious followup, which I have just emailed to the Klobuchar campaign:
“If the amendments she prefers had been defeated, and she had had to vote on the renewal of the Patriot Act in the form in which it reached the Senate floor for final passage, would she have voted aye or nay?”
If I get an updated answer, I’ll pass it along.
E-mail from Frances Starkey, Klobuchar’s media spokesperson:
“Yes, Amy would have voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act in its final
form and in the future, will advocate for additional protections for civil
liberties, including meaningful judicial review of gag orders, protection of
sensitive personal information, and an expedient sunset period so we can
continue to monitor these issues.”