Matt Yglesias, in response to an earlier post today, uses my reference to Republican attack ads against Max Cleland in the 2002 Senate campaign as a jumping off point to harangue Democrats for whining instead of playing hardball politics in return.
While I don’t disagree with the underlying point that whining is an ineffective political response to political attacks, especially on national security issues, Matt’s assertion that the 2002 attack ads didn’t question Cleland’s personal bravery is simply not correct.
Go look at the ad that I linked to. It begins and ends with courage. Personal courage is the entire theme of the ad. The sarcastic narrator concludes by saying, “Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead, but the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading.”
Matt asks “what does Cleland’s triple-amputee status have to do with it?” I’d say everything. I mean that quite literally. While attacking the personal courage of a triple amputee wounded in combat who perseveres to become a U.S. senator was a disgrace, it is the very fact of his courage that led to the GOP attack. Personal courage was perhaps Cleland’s greatest political strength, hence the attack. In the same way, John Kerry was swiftboated specifically because of his stellar swiftboat record.
I agree that a good biography ought not immunize a candidate from attack on the issues. But Matt is being blindingly naive when he says the ads merely offered a “seriously distorted and underhanded view of the issues at hand.” These ads weren’t about the issues; they were about the person. They seriously distorted Max Cleland. That is not how it should work.