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Bachmann and Reid: A Troubling Double Standard

Bachmann and Reid: A Troubling Double Standard

By Tom Bevan - August 8, 2012


Conservatives often complain of two sets of standards in politics: one for Democrats and another for Republicans. Sometime that double standard is imaginary. Often, it's quite real. Consider the events of the last three weeks:

On July 19, news broke that Michele Bachmann and four other Republican members of Congress had penned a letter to the State Department alleging the possibility of a “deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood.” The members singled out Huma Abedin, a senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as among those possessing ties to the radical Islamist group.

Bachmann’s claims were based upon the thinnest possible evidence, and she was quickly denounced -- particularly by members of her own party -- for making such unsourced and scurrilous claims.

“These are dangerous accusations,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said on CNN. “If somebody had the facts, somebody should have put the facts out there."

Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts took Bachmann to task on Twitter, calling her accusations “out of line” and saying “this kind of rhetoric has no place in our public discourse.”

Bachmann’s former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, blasted her in an op-ed carried by FOXNews.com:

As a member of Congress, with a seat on the House Intelligence Committee, Mrs. Bachmann you know better. Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working, loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges. As a devoted Christian, you need to ask forgiveness for this grievous lack of judgment and reckless behavior.

Finally, and most prominently, John McCain went to the floor of the United States Senate to denounce the unsubstantiated attack.

“Mr. President: Rarely do I come to the floor of this institution to discuss particular individuals. But I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person’s character, reputation, and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness. It is for that reason that I rise today to speak in defense of Huma Abedin,” McCain began.

“Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person,” he continued. “This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. . . . When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

Only one prominent Republican, Newt Gingrich, defended Bachmann, arguing that she and her colleagues were asking legitimate questions of the U.S. government.

That’s one case study. Here’s another:

Last week Sen. Harry Reid claimed in an interview that a Bain Capital investor told him Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes in 10 years. Reid passed along his similarly unfounded allegation with a striking admission: “Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," Reid said.

On Aug. 2, 15 days after McCain took to the Senate floor to defend Huma Abedin, Harry Reid stood in precisely the same spot and repeated his claim against Mitt Romney. To this day, not a single prominent Democrat has denounced him for it.

To the contrary, Democrats rallied to defend Reid and to praise him for his political toughness and grit. Nancy Pelosi even ventured through the looking glass to assert that it was “a fact” that Reid had a source inside Bain -- even as the Nevada senator’s story about his sourcing was changing.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney came under heavy pressure from NBC’s Chuck Todd to give an on-the-record response to Reid’s allegations, but Carney spent nearly five minutes dodging and steadfastly refused to denounce Reid’s attack.

This refusal only fuels the suspicion that Reid was doing the Obama campaign’s bidding. And make no mistake, there’s a double standard within the double standard: Michele Bachmann is a back-bencher in the House of Representatives. Harry Reid is the Senate majority leader.

Not only are Democrats and the White House unwilling to denounce him publicly, but Reid himself claimed in an interview with his home state media that the Obama campaign is delighted by his underhanded tactics and wants to see him continue to drive the media discussion of Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

That’s not only cynical, but dangerous. In allowing Reid to air an unsourced allegation from the floor of the United States Senate and then to argue that the burden of proof lies with the accused and not the accuser, Democrats have set a new low for modern political campaigns. It’s exactly the kind of “politics of personal destruction” the president promised he would not engage in. Let’s hope it doesn’t become the beginning of a tradition. 

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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