by Quin Hillyer
For somebody supposedly of invincible political strength, Alabama’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Shelby, sure looks to be running scared as he conducts an amazingly sleazy campaign against challenger Jonathan McConnell.
I had chosen to cover this campaign in a very neutral, even-handed manner, as shown at this earlier piece I wrote for The Weekly Standard.
But after seeing Shelby’s continuing barrage of not just negative, but utterly misleading, ads against McConnell, along with being told by seemingly believable sources of some particularly underhanded tactics by Shelby’s team behind the scenes, I finally had enough. I feel I must speak out, not as an advocate for a candidate but as a (self-appointed) arbiter of what is reasonable, fair and decent in campaigns.
In writing this, I do so in full knowledge that Shelby and his people have quite a reputation of being particularly vindictive. Well, I’ll risk it. My job, my mission, is to inform the public of relevant facts and of the truth (a somewhat different thing from mere facts) as I see it, along with my considered (and obviously conservative) analysis thereof.
I also write this (and I promise I will get to the meat of this, soon) while making clear that this is not a comment on the job Shelby is doing as senator — which has been, on the whole, reasonably good, although one wonders whether he should sign up for another term to last until he is 88 years old — but only on the nature of the nasty campaign he is running. A good senator can be a very unpleasant man, and this campaign certainly makes him seem unpleasant.
This is not to say that there is no role for pointed criticism within political campaigns. Sometimes politics gets rough. But there are standard-issue political attacks, such as those McConnell has used on the stump against some of Shelby’s past “bad” votes (against Judge Robert Bork but for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for instance)… and then there are drive-by slimings of the sort Shelby has engaged in.
Throughout the campaign, Shelby has used his personal hit man at Yellowhammer News, whose living is boosted by those over whom Shelby has (shall we say) great influence, to plant attack after attack. (Note that the “documentation” for most of the attacks in Shelby’s nasty anti-McConnell mailers isn’t a neutral professional news outlet but rather Yellowhammer’s partisan blog.) Alternatively, Shelby’s attacks have been routed through sources in bed (at least figuratively speaking) with lobbyists known to be part of the Shelby orbit.
The worst example is Shelby’s claim in a mailer that McConnell was “accused of bribery scheme.” Well, no. The only person to use the word “bribery” about a conversation between McConnell and longer-shot candidate John Martin is the headline-writer at Yellowhammer; Martin himself quite pointedly declined to say he had been offered a bribe. The reality, upon further review, is that Martin accuses McConnell — gasp! — of a rather standard-issue political offer to help raise funds to cover Martin’s relatively piddly candidate qualifying fee.
Then there are Shelby’s ubiquitous ads accusing McConnell of supporting “amnesty for illegals.” This is sheer and utter balderdash. McConnell has adopted a firmly anti-amnesty position. At issue is a recording from a McConnell campaign event in which the Shelby camp stops the recording exactly at the key spot to eliminate all relevant context. In reality, McConnell is explaining an alternative means for making it in a business’ best interests, i.e, financial costs, not to hire illegals. Now, there are pros and cons to McConnell’s approach, but the entire point of McConnell’s proposal, well understood among policy experts, is to re-incentivize the hiring of Americans instead of aliens. He is saying that it might be hard physically to round up all 11 million illegals to deport them, so there should also be other ways to make it less likely that they will stay.
The McConnell proposal has as much in common with amnesty as Shelby — despite being on the public payroll since 1963 — has in common with a private sector paycheck.
In ad after ad and mailer after mailer and planted story after planted story, it hasn’t been enough for Shelby and his minions to portray the 33-year-old Marine veteran and anti-pirate protector of merchant vessels as too young and inexperienced to start his career in the U.S. Senate. And it certainly hasn’t been enough for Shelby to cite specifics of his own accomplishments in the Senate. No, Shelby’s $19 million (about which, more in a moment) in campaign cash, plus his universal name ID, apparently isn’t enough to explain in a positive way why Alabamans should be grateful enough for Shelby’s service to re-elect him. Instead, the Shelby team and their lackeys repeatedly have portrayed McConnell as corrupt and have said that the obviously conservative young man “supports Barack Obama’s liberal agenda and he’s using a con game to sell it.” For added touches, Shelby’s material puts the familiar Obama logo within every prominent letter “O” associated with McConnell’s name, and superimposes a photo of Obama next to one of McConnell.
This is worse than tawdry campaigning; it’s sleazy. It veritably oozes with farm fertilizer.
Not that Shelby himself is anything close to simon-pure. Any challenger to Shelby has available plenty of already-published ammo to question Shelby’s ethics — and to ask why former Gov. Bob Riley and Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard have said Shelby and an ex-aide have a “racket“and a “shakedown routine like you wouldn’t believe.”
As for Shelby’s $19 million in campaign funds, plenty of people have rightly criticized him for hoarding it — far more money than he can possibly use on a single Alabama campaign — for election cycle after election cycle, rather than donating just a little more of it each time to help nine fellow Republican Senate candidates. Nine of those Republicans ended up losing achingly close races, handing the Senate to Democrats who passed Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation regime, and other abominations by one single vote or just a few votes.
Just $1.5 million more generosity from Shelby in each biennial election since 2006 surely could have saved his party, and his country, from such idiocies, while still leaving Shelby with $10 million to run his vicious campaign against McConnell.
Richard Shelby, even at age 81, is a hard-working senator. He could run on his record. The fact that he instead chooses to run by horribly slandering an impressive young man is a sign of a rottenness somewhere in Shelby’s character.