Tuesday, March 21, 2006


two wingnuts

The Illinois primary is today. The Republican candidates in the 8th congressional district have been running hard. The historically-Republican district (Philip Crane for decades, before him, Donald Rumsfeld) is represented by freshman Democrat Melissa Bean, and is considered a top pickup opportunity for the Republicans. I doubt the Republicans will take the seat back, because the tide is against them, but the winner would have a good start in the Republican House — the primary campaign is expensive, vicious, and stupid.

The two major candidates, Kathy Salvi and David McSweeney, are trying to win the primary by running to each other's right. The result is that they get bunched up together, almost indistinguishable on the fringe. They're afraid to attack each other for being too conservative. And there may be no such thing, at least in the primary. But they are so far out on the edge that every attack makes its target sound reasonable and responsible — almost like a Democrat. This rosy picture isn't reliable, though. If you look at what they say about themselves, each snaps back into focus as your standard wingnut.

Most of the charges and counter-charges have been broadcast on TV and radio. Ad nauseam: Each candidate has dumped more than a million dollars of personal money into the race. They don't have the guts to put their own hit pieces online, though. From their opponents' advertising, it sounds as though

• McSweeney isn't insanely opposed to abortion. (He actually is, though. He's just slightly less anti-choice than Salvi.)

• Salvi might show insufficient deference to the whims of big corporations. (She's a personal-injury lawyer. But she supports tort "reform".)

• Neither Salvi nor McSweeney is true to the legacy of Ronald Reagan. (Wrong. They were both baptized in the festering juices of Reagan's corpse.)

If, instead of relying on their opponents' attack ads, you look at their own material, you'll see them both parrot the failed Republican orthodoxy:

• Fix the deficit by cutting taxes.

• Fix Social Security by killing it.

• Fix Iraq by wishing for a pony — wishing really hard.

It's as formulaic as spam email promising you a naked, eighteen-year mortgage, but not as well-crafted.

Just as spammers who depart from their templates become even more obviously fake, Republicans who depart from their templates become even less convincing. When Salvi and McSweeney don't follow the blueprint, they show how confused they are by taking stands that feel good, but don't tie in with the rest of the message. Salvi takes a controversial stand on traffic congestion. She's against it. McSweeney hates child molesters almost as much as he hates trial lawyers like Salvi. These programs (well, implied programs; they're too savvy to offer any specifics) may sound good, but neither fits with its candidate's alleged principles. Salvi doesn't explain how she'll bring home major pork while cutting spending to the bone everywhere else — and we're talking huge gobbets of pork to address the district's traffic problems, the kind of pork that brand-new congress-critters don't get anywhere near. McSweeney wants to introduce federal laws for state crimes, yet he claims he wants to return power to the states. And he will somehow reduce the burden of pointless federal regulation by passing unnecessary laws.

Most of what the Republican candidates say is either horrid or inane. But there's also what they don't say. They talk about the deficit. They talk about getting the troops in Iraq the materiel they need. They talk about cleaning up the mess in Washington. But they never mention whose fault it all is. They never mention the elephant in the room, the Republican party. The Republicans created the mess in Washington. Sending more Republicans will only make it worse.


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