Thursday, October 22, 2009
Pants on Fire
Ah, New Hampshire. This year we had a long, cold, wet spring; a cold, wet summer, and a glorious fall with spectacular foliage. It was a rancorous year in the NH legislature, with the budget being a particular thorny issue. Mel Thomson and William Loeb still dictate our tax policy from the grave, and Judd Gregg voted in favor of rape. It was a year blissfully free of electoral politics for most of us, but the end of the year is drawing near. Next year we’ll be voting for 2 Congresscritters, one US Senator, the entire NH legislature, the Executive Council, and the Governor.
The NH GOP is unhappy about losing their divine right to run our state. Despite steady losses in the last 4 years, they have not been able to come up with a new message. They’re still saying “no taxes and cut spending.” It was a great message in 1910. In 2010 the reality is somewhat different. Things cost more, an elementary concept that the NH GOP is unable to embrace. Sure, there are ways to spend less money. At a time when many states are eliminating the costly death penalty as a way to save millions, NH is the only state looking to begin executions. The budget for lead paint testing has been cut recently, but we’ll be building a death row and an execution chamber.
Meanwhile, the NH GOP is trying out some new messaging, akin to throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks. In September, former NH GOP Chairman Wayne Semprini wrote a letter to the Portsmouth Herald, accusing Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of being a hypocrite for criticizing disruptors at town hall meetings. Semprini claimed that in 2005, at a Bradley town hall meeting he moderated, that Shea-Porter and her supporters wore waffle hats and continually disrupted the meeting.
The GOP lost both Congressional seats in 2006, but they took the loss of the CD 1 seat much harder. They’ve never gotten over losing that seat (which had been comfortably occupied by multimillionaire do-nothing Jeb Bradley) to an upstart, grassroots candidates. That the upstart is a woman is the angry frosting on their cake of rage.
Semprini tried. He thought he’d get the party faithful all wound up, and soon the villagers would be out with pitchforks and torches, yelling “kill the witch.” Poor Semprini, it didn’t work out the way he’d planned. The trouble with telling lies in the Internet era is that anyone can look up stuff in newspaper archives. A story about that particular town hall meeting, published by the Portsmouth Herald in 2005 was quickly unearthed. There was even a picture – a picture that showed a hatless Shea-Porter. The newspaper told a different story of the events than the one Semprini was attempting to tell.
That’s another problem with lying in the digital age. News travels fast, and immediately the recollections of folks who were at that town hall meeting began to contradict Semprini. I was one of the contradictors. In 2005, I was working for a non-profit that was fighting Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security. Former Congressman Jeb Bradley had run for office saying he was against privatization, but after BushCo began twisting his arm, his once strong stand was turning to Jell-O. I was there with a group of folks who were pressuring Bradley to stop waffling – hence the hats. I made those hats. Our theme was “Leggo my Social Security.”
Carol Shea-Porter was not part of my group. I met her for the first time a few weeks later. She was not there with a group of supporters – she didn’t decide to run for office for another 8 months. She was present, as a citizen, asking questions, as she did a number of times. I was at the same meetings. Carol was always friendly and polite to the Congressman, even as she asked hard questions and wouldn’t let him off the hook for the answers. My waffle crew was not disruptive. We did not want rudeness to be the story – we wanted Bradley’s waffling on Social Security to be the story. We were not at all like the tea party disruptors at town hall meetings in 2009. Wayne Semprini has never apologized to Congresswoman Shea-Porter for his accusations, which tells me that this wasn’t a memory lapse. Maybe he’s still putting the fire in his pants out.
That try at a GOP message got thrown out, contradicted quickly, and didn’t stick. This week, a story at Politico.com suggests that Shea-Porter has “gone native,” and become a “Washington insider.” Nashua Telegraph reporter Kevin Landrigan was quoted as writing, “The irony is, of course, that Shea-Porter used to be a ‘tea-bagger’ on the left.” The real irony is that Kevin Landrigan used to be a decent reporter. Now he’s just another right wing mouthpiece, spouting this silly, debunked meme. The Politico story tries to muster up all kinds of outrage about a grassroots activist turned insider. Jeb Bradley is quoted as saying, “I think she’s gone to Washington and forgotten that she’s New Hampshire’s representative in Washington.” This comes from a guy who was fired by the voters from his job as Congressman, failed to get re-elected, and was reduced to the NH State Senate, where he earns $100 a year. He would do ANYTHING to get back inside Washington. The real prize goes to GOP stenographer Jennifer Donahue, of the NH Institute for Politics, who said: “She’s not really viewed by most people as an activist or an outsider. “She’s part of the establishment, and I think she faces more scrutiny than before.” Carol Shea-Porter got elected and went to Washington to do her job – oh, the horror!
The desperation of the NH GOP is palpable. One would think that in the face of the changes in the political climate in our state, and the failure of their party in the last 2 election cycles, that they might do some navel gazing. One would be wrong. The strategy seems to be to continue to keep selling the same, failed message they’ve used for the past 100 years – and to keep telling lies, hoping something will stick.
“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.” Mark Twain
This was published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on October 23, 2009
© sbruce 2009
Posted by susanthe at 8:58 PM