Way Past Time To Lock Up Guilt-By-Association Politics

Bill Scher

Whether or not you are a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama, if you are a politician interested in having your substantive arguments be heard, or if you’re a citizen that wants your government responding to your needs, you’ll stand against ridiculous guilt-by-association attacks and persistent politics of personal destruction that distract from the relevant issues at hand.

Obama is merely the latest politician in the media crucible, as his former pastor resurfaced and gave journalists another opportunity to shed professionalism and blithely associate Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s views with Obama’s.

Both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain have cagily sought to keep the Wright flap above the fold, as well as the even more strained association to the former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. Yet what may be in their short-term political interest is not in their long-term interest.

The guilt-by-association attacks that were the basis for the Whitewater non-scandal chewed up the Clinton administration in 1990s, a massive distraction that made it difficult to further policy goals, and led President Bill Clinton coin the phrase “politics of personal destruction.” McCain presidential aspirations in 2000 were hobbled in South Carolina after a whisper campaign (linked to Bush aide Karl Rove) falsely portrayed McCain as a mentally unstable father of a black child out of wedlock, with a drug addict wife.

If they, and we, allow irrelevant attacks dominate the discourse and maintain their political currency, it is they, and we, who will also pay the price.

If Sen. Clinton wants to show that mandating everyone to purchase health insurance is not the same as a “one-size-fits-all-big government takeover” — as McCain characterizes it, she needs the media to recognize that’s a debate voters want to hear. If Sen. McCain wants to make the case that we can stay in Iraq for 100 years without destabilizing the Middle East, he needs a substantive focus from the media as well.

Furthermore, encouraging a guilt-by-association standard for political attacks can easily splatter on them or any other current or aspiring politician. The Clintons have already suffered it, and McCain’s associations have barely begun to receive attention.

McCain’s campaign seemed to recognize that last month. Top McCain aide Charlie Black said on MSNBC:

…what Sen. McCain has said repeatedly is that these candidates cannot be held accountable for all the views of people who endorse them or people who befriend them…

…John McCain believes is that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton should be held accountable for their public policy views…

…He believes that people who endorse you, people who befriend you are entitled to their own views, but you are not held personally accountable. That when somebody endorses you or befriends you, they’re embracing your views, the candidates’ views, not the other way around.

That’s the right standard. Now we just need all candidates, all parties and all pundits to adhere to that standard.

Because if we voters want a government that responds to our needs, we need a media that provides good information, allows for informed dialogue and reflects what people desire, so a mandate for action is established. When guilt-by-association junk mucks up the debate, that obstructs our ability to communicate to our government what matters to us.

As this campaign has dragged on, media attention has drifted farther away from what matters to voters — how we revitalize our economy, fight global warming, provide health care to all and end the occupation of Iraq. Voters cried out for substance after the abhorrent ABC debate this month.

Apparently, we need to shout even louder.

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