Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Lesser of Three Evils

In the past week the mayoral candidates have started slinging mud in a desperate attempt to get into the anticipated runoff. It is usually amusing to watch candidates I dislike beat up on one another, and this round is no exception.

This week Locke began running a radio ad attacking Peter Brown. The interesting aspect of this ad is not what is said, but what isn't said and merely implied. The Chronicle's political blog has a transcript of the ad:
In this year's mayoral race let's look at the facts.

We know Peter Brown's already spent more than three million dollars to buy this election but it's more than that.

Can we really trust Peter Brown?
Locke implies that Brown has done something nefarious in spending a bunch of money--that spending money makes an individual unworthy of trust. How much money does one have to spend to be unworthy of trust? Locke doesn't say, but I suspect the answer is: more than Locke. Unable to attack Brown on principles--because Locke shares those principles--Locke can only pursue a superficial issue with the hope of eliciting animosity towards Brown's wealth. And Locke doesn't stop there:
When asked what he paid in property taxes he [Brown] refused to answer, maybe that's because he paid $55,000 last year, more than most of us make in a year.
So Brown owns an expensive house. Is this supposed to disqualify him as mayor? Is Locke jealous, or is he simply playing on the jealousies that others might feel towards Brown? And Locke certainly makes much more than $55,000 a year, so who is the "us" he refers to? In any case, to make this a campaign issue is petty. Continuing the theme, and adding a new twist:
Brown voted against low-income housing here but owns a vacation home in France.

Voting against low-income housing is proper--government should not be taking money from some citizens to distribute to others--whether one owns a vacation home in France or not. I'd vote against low-income housing and I've never even been to France. (Incidentally, one reason I have been to France is because I am forced to pay for low-income housing. Another reason is, after considerable research, I have concluded that the place is teeming with far more Frenchmen than I could tolerate.)

If you think having a vacation home in France is bad, then Brown's ignorance of supermarket prices is sure to send you scurrying to vote for Locke:

The Houston Chronicle noted in 2007 that Brown expressed amazement at the cost of milk. And quoted Brown saying, "I don't know much about the daily lives of people I represent." Clearly he's out of touch.

How can we trust Peter Brown?

I must admit that I don't know the cost of milk either. I seldom drink the stuff and my wife does the shopping. (I'm no ogre though; I do all of the cooking.) Of all the issues that the next mayor will have to deal with, I seriously doubt that knowing the price of milk will really be that important. And if for some bizarre reason it does matter, I will give Peter Brown enough credit to be able to find out.

Locke's ad is one continuous ad hominem attack. We are supposed to distrust Peter Brown--not because of his positions on the issues--but because of his wealth. We are supposed to distrust Brown--not because he wants to enact restrictive land-use regulations--but because he doesn't know the price of milk.

While raising issues regarding Brown's character, Locke tells us nothing about his own positions. He tells us that we can't trust Peter Brown, but offers no substantive reason why we should trust Gene Locke. He does tell us of his endorsements:

He's been endorsed by the Houston Chronicle, over 100 Pastors, Reverends and Bishops, and most of our community leaders.

Actually, Locke was co-endorsed by the Chronicle (along with Annise Parker), a fact that he conveniently glosses over. And so what that a bunch of religious leaders have endorsed him? Is this supposed to imply that he has, at least implicitly, God's endorsement as well?

Parker, who has previously made some swipes at Brown for spending his own money on the campaign, sent out a postcard this week that mimics Locke's play on class envy. (I haven't received this particular card, but you can see an image here.) In the ad Parker attacks Brown for missing city council votes while vacationing at "his luxury villa on the French Riviera." Parker's card paints Brown as a croissant eating elitist, and herself as a plain bread kind of gal. (Interestingly, the Chronicle naively views this as anti-French, rather than anti-wealth.) But the fact is, she is offering the same stale ideas as Brown.

Brown has engaged in his own mud slinging. He has been mailing postcards that attack both Locke and Parker, without a single mention of Brown's positions or accomplishments. In fact, the only mention of Brown is a little blurb (in very small type) that the card was paid for by his campaign.

These ads are giving us "reasons" to vote against others. None attack his opponent's position on the issues, because in essentials all three agree on the issues. None can attack the others on principles, because to do so would be to attack their own position.

Since this campaign began I have argued that Parker, Locke, and Brown are indistinguishable in terms of their policies and ideas. Apparently Parker and Locke agree, and see Brown's wealth as the only distinction between them. And now, in their last mad rush to secure votes, they are using Brown's wealth as an argument to vote against him.

At least implicitly, this is an admission that there are no reasons to vote for either candidate--that our best option is to select the lesser of the evils. Personally, I don't regard that as an option. A "choice" between arsenic and cyanide is not a choice. Evil is evil, and evil will never get my vote.

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