Friday, March 17, 2006

Conflicting Agendas

James Hart is a racist nutball who has been bedeviling the West Tennessee Republicans for many years now. It's their own fault, as I've previously written. (A great corollary post from Matt White here.)

In a nutshell, Hart is a eugenicist; that is, he cloaks his undiluted racism in a veneer of science. He takes advantage of Tennessee Republicans' open primaries to get himself public attention by taking further advantage of FCC rules that require radio stations to accept his ads. Those ads are nothing but platforms for him to proselytise his disease. It's the only reason he runs, to get that media access every two to four years. And the mainstream media furor elevates him to public notice, and further spreads the message.

Hart's been out there for a decade or so now, but in 2004 the Republicans left a primary race open against the "unassailable" John Tanner. No one wanted to run a losing race. Hart pounced and won the primary, becoming the de facto candidate of the Republican party. A returning Iraq War vet was recruited late by the party to run a write-in campaign against Hart. That failed and Hart became a cause celebre in certain political and media quarters.

The press and television news, of course, pounced all over the story and made much hay of it for weeks. It was a true embarrassment for the Republicans, a waste of supposed precious resources in having to fight a rear-guard action against Hart. I wrote the post linked above in response, after the election if I remember right, pointing out what they'd done wrong and how foolish their "this is how we've always done it" attitude was. It earned me a blistering email from a top Republican who defended all their mistakes. The guy all but called me outside for fisticuffs, he was that mad. He claimed they couldn't find people to run losing races; I pointed out that's why parties exist, to find someone to take one for the team. He said it was the Shelby County Republican Party's job to police the ballots, but the State Party's job. Blah, blah, blah.

And then, a few months later, Wendi Thomas had a brief follow-up on the whole mess. Yep, the media were still flogging the story. Thomas noted that the Republicans were instituting changes to prevent scandals like Hart from happening again. The changes were what I'd already blogged.

You'd think they'd learned their lesson, but no. Hart is back again and is being used against the Republicans one more time. In reading this story it was easy to see not just two points of view -- Hart and the Tennessee Republicans -- but a third as well. Commercial Appeal Washington bureau writer Bartholonew Sullivan makes sure to get his shots in. Let me deal with the Republicans some more before I turn to Sullivan.

Proving there's no lesson they can't refuse to learn, the Tennessee Republican party sent notice to Hart that he was not welcome on their ballot, triggering a lawsuit by Hart. Having been criticised before for pre-emptive action that's a little bit too pre-emptive -- like jumping the gun when they sent out a press release urging the County Commission to appoint a Republican to replace disgraced State Senator John Ford before his seat had cooled even -- the Republicans didn't do the smart thing, like have a viable candidate already in line to quash Hart in the primary. No, they gave him an opportunity to appeal to the media about his bad treatment. It could've been handled quietly, possibly at the expense of a primary article or two; although in this hectic and packed primary season there are any number of other stories higher up the food chain to cover. No, they once again give Hart a chance to make a stink, and he does.

Of course Sullivan, the Commercial Appeal's unreconstructed Great Society Democrat, is all too happy to help Hart along. Sullivan's undoubtedly delighted to use phrases like Republican congressional candidate repudiated by the GOP because of his racial views against his political foes. He also gets to fully quote Hart's lawyer:
Mr. Hart is a grass-roots Republican who objects to the 'country club' approach to selecting candidates or conducting elections.
"Country club." You can almost hear Sullivan's cackle as he transcribed that. And note, no scare quotes here; no selected bits of quote, no. We get the whole thing. Very unusual.

And Sullivan pads the story with the kind of detail that almost never makes such extended coverage in the mainstream media:
...Hart's lawyer sent a letter to the Tennessee Republican Party Thursday laying out a Constitutional argument for why his client can't legally be removed from the ballot....

Barrett laid out a constitutional argument, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedents, that he said showed the party can't legally remove his client, who received 59,853 votes in the 2004 general election won by Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., with 173,623 votes.

"It appears that you wish to penalize Mr. Hart for his Eugenicist political beliefs. However, the First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit such arbitrary and egregious conduct," Barrett asserted, citing a 1992 Supreme Court case.
Now come on. When was the last time you ever heard capital-C Constitutionalist used in the CA? The daily has been very scrupulous in keeping the "fringe parties" and ideas out on the fringe, safely away from the controlling Democratic - Republican axis of evil.

The Republicans screwed up again and gave the local media the opportunity to bash them once again. Dolts.

Once more, some advice that will go unheeded. Run a blocking defense: make sure all primary slots have someone in place for the party to support. That way, when future James Harts show up, you can simply and easily invest a little time and resource into promoting the "real" candidate and overshadowing the problem.

I thought that one of the "reforms" of the Republican party was a screening process in Nashville on all applications for ballot access, to prevent Harts from getting on the ballot. From the story, they seem to have short-circuited that process in favor of purposely snubbing Hart specifically. Wrong way to go. Let the process do its thing, so it's clear that this is all just business as usual for the Party.

Don't deliberately antagonise the Harts of the world, which only stirs passions and makes the story play better for the media. (Conflict!) Make it a story of bureaucratic process, which makes it dull and less palatable to the press.

Heck, play along, like he's the John Jay Hooker of the Republicans, like he's the buffoon, the quadrennial freak. Laugh about it and him. Make sure it comes through in the story that he's not to be taken seriously. That's much more effective marginalising than what you've been doing for the past three years.

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