Did anyone think that the year of anger in U.S. politics would reach concussive depths?
Before the Oct. 25 U.S. Senate debate in Kentucky between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul, a Paul supporter working crowd control overpowered Lauren Valle, an activist with the liberal group MoveOn.org, pinned her arms behind her back, then stomped on her head.
The 23-year-old Valle, who came across in later interviews as slight and soft-spoken, may have stretched the bounds of campaign decorum with her effort to pose next to Paul with a satirical sign. That doesn’t justify a sidewalk sandwich.
Even with the ugly encounter captured on videotape, Paul, one of the Tea Party’s insurgent stars, tried at first to write it off as just an altercation between “supporters of both sides.” In truth, it had a Rodney King element: after Valle had been tackled, Tim Profitt, a county-level coordinator for Paul’s campaign, used his foot to grind her face into the pavement. Profitt ultimately was relieved of his campaign duties.
The incident was good news for another Tea Partier, Joe Miller, the Republican nominee for Senate in Alaska, whose campaign no longer can be called the most physically aggressive.
Since his upset victory in the Republican primary over incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, Miller said he wouldn’t answer any questions about his past. When the editor of the Alaska Dispatch news website asked some anyway, at a public event, security guards employed by Miller’s campaign handcuffed the journalist and seized his video camera. There were no grounds to arrest him, of course, and a police officer called to the scene removed the cuffs.
We don’t know what, if anything, the violence outside the Kentucky debate will do to affect that race, which Paul had been leading in polls by about 8 percentage points. But Miller now finds himself in something close to a dead heat, which seemed utterly improbable a few weeks ago.
For good reason, no one gave Murkowski much of a chance in her effort to retain her seat as a write-in candidate. Like Ginger Rogers, she would have to do everything her male opponents did, only backward and in high heels. A moderate in a conservative year, Murkowski defends the earmarking process that has brought loads of federal money to Alaska and voted for the bank-bailout program known as TARP, though she says now she regrets that.
No one’s helped Murkowski more than Miller, who is proving himself beyond the pale even at a time when extremism is no vice.
‘Take You Out’
In New York, Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino threatened, “I’ll take you out, buddy,” to a reporter who asked questions he didn’t like. In Nevada, Sharron Angle says the public might be ready to try “Second Amendment remedies” to take control of their government. Proving that anger is bipartisan, the Democratic candidate for governor in Rhode Island, Frank Caprio, said President Barack Obama could “shove it” for not endorsing him.
Alaska’s Miller had good reason to ban inquiries about his past, because it’s so troubling. Until it was dug up, he refused to admit that as a part-time attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, he was suspended for using government computers to cast multiple votes in a meaningless online poll that he was sponsoring in hopes of undermining the state Republican chairman.
“I lied about accessing all of the computers. I then admitted about accessing the computers, but lied about what I was doing. Finally, I admitted what I did,” Miller wrote as part of the 2008 disciplinary proceeding he fought to keep secret.
While mostly boosting Murkowski’s chances, Miller’s self- combustion has also pulled the Democratic candidate, Scott McAdams -- a dead ringer for John Candy, with a mustache -- within single digits of both of them. But between Miller’s past and Murkowski’s improbable dream, there’s little room left in the headlines for the Democrat to make much headway.
Miller, you might recall, had an early scare when he was perceived as dissing Sarah Palin after her endorsement won him the primary. Asked about Palin’s qualifications to be president, Miller demurred. That brought a chiding e-mail from Todd Palin, which Miller duly forwarded to a few select friends with the notations, “This is what we’re dealing with” and, “Holy Cow.” Luckily for Miller, Palin is more intent on bagging and field-dressing Murkowski than redressing his slight.
There’s room on the tundra for only one Mama Grizzly.
Those who complain that U.S. campaigns are too long should note how long it can take for voters to size up first-time candidates who dodge the press, conceal their past and limit their interactions with the public. With the notable exception of a certain handcuffed journalist in Alaska, the press hasn’t done a particularly impressive job, either. Most reporters fear calling fouls for fear of being labeled elitist.
Anger, incivility and high emotions have infected previous elections, of course. With the arrest in Alaska and the stomping in Kentucky, it feels much worse this year. It’s fashionable for female candidates in both parties to say, “Man up.” Let’s try, “Simmer down.”
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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