The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs play their first home game of the season tonight with an exhibition match against the Fayetteville Marksmen. We don’t know who’s going to win, but we know one thing: Inevitably, some hockey players will find themselves in the penalty box.
It’s also campaign season, which means, sadly but inevitably, some candidates — or their surrogates — deserve to be in the penalty box, too. Today we take out our whistles and call penalties on two of them, one from each party.
Corey Stewart. The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate pledged to run “the most vicious, ruthless campaign” against Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine. Is that really what American politics needs? More viciousness? More ruthlessness?
Mostly, Stewart has distinguished himself by roughing up Danville with a series of inaccurate and outdated claims about the city’s economy. No, Danville is not “boarded up.” It’s actually making a nice comeback from the collapse of its economy 20 years ago. No, the North American Free Trade Agreement did not kill its economy two decades ago, because the jobs Danville lost did not go to Mexico and they certainly didn’t go to Canada. Danville’s economy had been based on tobacco and textiles. The tobacco jobs simply went away — a little thing called the Surgeon General’s report had something to do with that — and the textile jobs mostly went to Asia. That wasn’t NAFTA’s fault. Other trade agreements surely accelerated their departure but the reality is those jobs had been migrating overseas for a long time. Stewart seems obsessed with re-creating a low-skill, low-wage past when Danville is working on creating a high-skilled advanced manufacturing future. Stewart, a politician from the Northern Virginia suburbs, seems to understand Southside Virginia only as a caricature.
That’s not why we’re sending Stewart to the penalty box today, though. We’re sending him there for making the unfounded claim that Kaine is guilty of sexual harassment.
Stewart has launched a series of radio ads that start out: “$17 million. That’s how much Congress has paid out in sexual harassment settlements against its own members.”
That’s partly true, partly not true. Congress has indeed paid out $17 million, but that’s not just related to charges against elected representatives, but all employees on Capitol Hill.
The more egregious part is that Stewart — without any evidence — goes on to suggest that Kaine is guilty of sexual harassment. “But why won’t they tell us who these senators are? Why not, Senator Kaine? What are you hiding? Are you on that list?” Technically, oh so technically, Stewart is right. We don’t know who’s on that list. But we all know what Stewart is trying to do here: He’s trying to smear Kaine without having any actual evidence. There are 62 unsolved homicides so far this year in Washington, D.C. By Stewart’s logic, you could be the killer. Prove it otherwise!
Another detail that Stewart skates by: It’s not Kaine keeping that list private, it’s the Republican majority that runs Congress.
What Stewart is doing here does more than try to hurt Kaine; it hurts the entire political process. These kind of McCarthy-like scare tactics are why it’s so hard to get good people to run for public office — and why we’re stuck with people like, well, Stewart. This is a flagrant foul.
Andrew Cockburn. It’s unusual to call a penalty on the spouse of a candidate, but campaign surrogates can commit fouls just as much as candidates can and spouses are perhaps the ultimate surrogates. Let’s explain how we got here. Leslie Cockburn is the Democratic candidate for the 5th District seat, which runs from Fauquier County down to the North Carolina line. The Republican candidate is Denver Riggleman.
At one of their debates this week, the topic turned to Afghanistan. Our military has now been there 17 years, with no end in sight. What our involvement there should be is a legitimate topic of debate. The debate turned to which candidate was best qualified to understand the problems of that country. Riggleman said he was because he’s an Air Force veteran who was involved in planning the first bombing raids on Afghanistan in October 2001. Cockburn said she was because, as a journalist, she’s been there.
“I covered three different wars in Afghanistan,” she said. “I covered the mujahideen war. I was in Kabul when the Taliban came in. And I was there during the American war. I will say, talking about the planned bombing raids right at the beginning of the war, Denver was not in Afghanistan. He was on Diego Garcia, which is 3,000 miles away from Afghanistan.”
Those are two interesting and very different perspectives. At this point, it’s probably advisable to heed the words of the great American philosopher Meatloaf in the song “Paradise By the Dashboard Lights,” specifically the line: “Stop right there!” Unfortunately, Cockburn’s husband, Andrew, did not stop right there. The candidate Cockburn was already headed into a trap — by appearing to equate her work as a journalist with Riggleman’s military service and perhaps even better it. Perhaps Cockburn’s views on Afghanistan are correct and Riggleman’s are wrong, but best to concentrate on those, and not appear to diminish his military service with the Diego Garcia quip. Cockburn had already set herself up for the inevitable Republican response, which came in the form of a tweet from a GOP spokesman: “Denver Riggleman went overseas to fight and risk his life for his country. @Leslie Cockburn went overseas to get better ratings.”
To which Andrew Cockburn tweeted: “‘Risked his life.’ How? Snorkeling off Diego Garcia? We need specifics.”
He later deleted the tweet but the damage was done. This should go without saying: Don’t disparage someone’s military service, whatever it was. Somehow President Trump got away with that when he insulted John McCain; we still can’t fathom why that didn’t end his candidacy in shame. But the rule still seems to hold for other politicians. If your opponent has served in the military, best to say you honor that service, you respect their service, and then quickly focus on the policy specifics where you disagree.
Intentional or otherwise, Andrew Cockburn’s tweet conveys a blithe disregard for those who wear or have worn the uniform of their country. Our military personnel serve in lots of places, some more or less dangerous than others. But all serve. As for Andrew Cockburn, he can serve time with Corey Stewart in our editorial penalty box.