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With a governor who was sentenced to federal prison a few years ago, Connecticut proved, much to its shock, that it could be just as corrupt as any other state. But on Tuesday, soundly rejecting Linda McMahon's second candidacy for U.S. senator and her essentially infinite campaign spending, Connecticut discovered, to some surprise if not shock, that it is at least still not quite as easily propagandized.
Not that Connecticut can be proud of the campaign leading to that result. Campaigns are supposed to illuminate issues but this one made them impenetrable instead.
For example, in the hands of McMahon, the Republican candidate, the vote cast by the Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, against a military appropriations bill was twisted into a vote against submarine construction at Electric Boat in Groton. But the bill also included more funding for the futile war in Afghanistan and the suspension of habeas corpus. If the bill had been defeated because of those provisions, they would have been removed and the military contracting would have been approved by itself with Murphy's support.
Meanwhile in Murphy's hands McMahon's remark that she was inclined, as a matter of religious liberty, to leave church-operated hospitals free not to dispense abortion-inducing drugs to rape victims was twisted into a scheme for the denial of all treatment to rape victims. In fact, every city in Connecticut with a church-operated hospital also has a full-service public hospital and the law easily could direct police and ambulance services to take rape victims to the public hospital unless they requested otherwise.
Murphy and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee often used such distortion in their ads against McMahon rather than use the devastating truth that was always at their disposal: videos of luridly sexual and violent "wrestling" exhibitions presented by McMahon's company, WWE, when she was its CEO. Those images are not just unanswerable but indelible, and WWE tried desperately to scrub them from the Internet during the campaign to protect McMahon. This scrubbing proclaimed her fatal weakness. That Murphy and the Democrats ignored it is mystifying.
Also mystifying was Murphy's running entirely toward the political left as if he didn't already have that vote and even as McMahon was repudiating her party at every opportunity and running toward the center. Any indication from Murphy that he wasn't so predictable, a political cliche, that he was the "independent thinker" that McMahon could claim to be only when she was reading from a script provided by her handlers, might have served him well too.
Rather than explain a few details to explode the distortions and hysteria they hurled at each other, both candidates proceeded with still more distortions and hysteria, apparently figuring that, as the political adage goes, if you're explaining, you're losing.
Maybe that adage is valid to some extent about a candidate's personal integrity. But is it valid in regard to public policy too? Is the public really incapable of understanding even the broadest distinctions and punishing distortion? If so, there's no point to democracy.
It would be a good experiment for democracy in Connecticut if someday a candidate for major office devoted his broadcast advertising to statements of his views on issues, delivered directly by the candidate himself without special effects. Some specifics, thought, and worldview can be conveyed even in 30 seconds by a candidate who has some intellect and willingness to account for himself.
Such straightforward advertising would not preclude criticism of an opponent. But it would discourage candidates from wild and angry distortion if they had to undertake it themselves rather than hide behind sinister, sneering, or mocking intermediary voices. Such advertising might engender respect for a candidate instead of leaving the electorate sick with contempt for everyone on the ballot.
Just imagine: "I'm Joe Blow and I approved this message. I wrote it myself. It's what I believe. Please judge me by it."