November 15, 2000

Paul Begala & Company Are Out of Control
By Tom Bevan

It's hard to imagine it getting any uglier. After eight years under the Bill Clinton regime, America has gotten used to the vicious attack-dog politics of James Carville and Sydney Blumenthal. But now, with the presidency hanging in the balance, Democrat operatives have gone over the line in their attempt to discredit and destroy anyone who stands in their way of winning this election. It has become clear there is nothing they will not say to retain their grip on power.

Am I overstating the case? Consider the personal attacks launched on Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a duly elected Republican who governs the state's election process. Earlier this week Gore spokesman Chris Lehane likened her actions to that of a "Soviet commissar." Last night on CNN Alan Dershowitz derided Harris as "corrupt," "a crook," and said that she had "laundered money."

And then there is Paul Begala, the Joe McCarthy of the Democratic party. Credited as one of the primary architects of Bill Clinton's 1992 victory, there is no allegation he is unwilling to make, no insult he is unwilling to hurl.

Begala helped save Bill Clinton's presidency in 1998 by spinning the national press with the story that Ken Starr's office was prone to leaks, obsessed by sex and had a vendetta against the President. This year, Begala felt compelled to author the book, "Is Our Children Learning? The Case Against George W. Bush," which describes the Governor of Texas as having "the intellectual curiosity of a slug," and "worse than dumb. He's lazy, arrogant, and defiantly ignorant."

Mr. Begala, it may be remembered, made the ridiculous assertion that Governor Bush was "whining" on election night when he contested the early calling of Florida for Mr. Gore. Even his fellow panelists found Mr. Begala's remark laughable.

This week Mr. Begala turned his maleficent rhetoric on Ms. Harris, calling her a "dilettante, debutante" and a "partisan political hack." Aside from the fact that these comments more accurately describe Mr. Begala than they do Ms. Harris, such rhetoric exposes Mr. Begala's utter contempt for those who oppose his views.

Why is it that Mr. Begala feels it necessary to check what little conscience he has at the door and fill the public airwaves with such poison? The reason is simple. Mr. Begala, like his former boss Mr. Clinton and his current boss Mr. Gore, believe that Democrats travel on a path of righteousness. Deep in their hearts they are convinced, as Mr. Gore let slip in the final weekend before the election, that politics is not merely a battle of competing ideologies but a war between "good and evil." And this holy war, in their minds, is worth winning at any cost.

Consider the following diatribe by Mr. Begala excerpted from his article "Banana Republicans" on November 13. Last week on MSNBC Mike Barnicle, formerly of the Boston Globe, displayed a map of the United States with election results by county and commented on the fact that an overwhelming number of rural counties voted for Bush (displayed in red) while urban counties on both coasts voted for Gore (displayed in blue). Mr. Begala wrote the following in response:

Yes, Barnicle is right when he notes that tens of millions of good people in Middle America voted Republican. But if you look closely at that map you see a more complex picture. You see the state where James Byrd was lynch-dragged behind a pickup truck until his body came apart ó itís red. You see the state where Matthew Shepard was crucified on a split-rail fence for the crime of being gay ó itís red. You see the state where right-wing extremists blew up a federal office building and murdered scores of federal employees ó itís red. The state where an Army private who was thought to be gay was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, and the state where neo-Nazi skinheads murdered two African-Americans because of their skin color, and the state where Bob Jones University spews its anti-Catholic bigotry: theyíre all red too. But thatís not the whole story, either. Cultural warriors like House impeachment managers Bill McCollum and James Rogan and ultra-conservatives like Sen. John Ashcroft were defeated. A gun control measure passed in Colorado and Oregon, and school vouchers were rejected in Michigan and California. Democrats gained seats in the House, the Senate and state legislatures ó and Gore carried the popular vote. My point is that Middle America is a far more complicated place than even a gifted commentator like Mike Barnicle gives us credit for. Itís not all just red and blue ó or black and white.

Mr. Begala could not be more clear in callling Republicans racist, homophobic, and right-wing extremists. In other words, "evil." Would a conservative who made similar statements be considered "well-respected" and "creditable"? Of course not. They would be demonized and marginalized. Yet we constantly see Mr. Begala as a featured guest on prominent talk show panels spewing his vitriol.

What does it say about our media that Mr. Begala's insidious commentary is taken seriously? How is it that he can get away with making blatantly divisive and untrue statements without being held accountable? It is, in fact, this absolute lack of accountability which encourages Mr. Begala and his cohorts to continue to push the rhetorical envelope with harsher language and more personal attacks.

Unfortunately, as Mr. Begala can surely attest, these attacks succeed more often than they fail. Even more unfortunate for Republicans is the fact they do not have anyone nearly as skilled and unscrupulous as Begala to spin on their behalf. As the struggle for president reaches its climax, Republicans have put their faith in the rule of law and Democrats have put theirs in Begala and company's ability to shape public opinion in favor of the Vice President. Mr. Begala, Mr. Lehane, Mr. Dershowitz and the rest will stop at nothing to achieve a victory for Mr. Gore.

Tom Bevan writes for RealClearPolitics

Past RCP Commentary

Sign up for free commentary and updates from RealClear Politics.  Just type in your email address and click the "subscribe" button.