Getting Beyond Hypocrisy

I've often lamented, right here on TAPPED, the degree to which campaigns ignore the stuff government actually does (so-called policy) and obsess over the "character" of candidates, focusing on questions like which one is the bigger liar or who loves America more. These things are largely irrelevant -- whether someone likes a little eye of newt in their stew doesn't tell you whether they'll be a good legislator or not. But they're not completely irrelevant -- we do want to know whether candidates are criminals, or incompetent, or mistreat their employees, and that sort of thing. So I'm a bit conflicted about the travails of Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller:

Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller said Monday he will not answer any more questions about his personal background for the rest of the campaign. ...

He has said the Alaska media is reporting what he considers irrelevant issues, such as his past government benefits.

That includes coverage of the fact he and his wife obtained state low-income hunting and fishing licenses after he took out a mortgage and started a $70,000 a year job, and that his family of eight children received state and federal low-income medical benefits in the past.

Miller has been critical of such programs at the federal level, saying the nation suffers from an "entitlement mentality" and is on the brink of bankruptcy. (via Steve Benen)

If I had to make a case for why this stuff is relevant, it would be that it is about his own choices on the very topic that he has made the centerpiece of his campaign. It actually could be the basis of a worthwhile discussion with the press, not so that they can do a "Gotcha, you're a hypocrite!" on him, but so they can talk with him about how people relate to government, what government benefits do for people, and so on. That could get past the sloganeering, and into something of real value to voters.

That obviously won't happen, at least not with Miller participating. But the growing number of such stories -- Republican candidates revealed to have gotten government loans, government health care, and other government benefits, while railing against government -- could provide some mainstream journalists a hook to write some good articles about what government actually does for citizens, and maybe reduce the level of hypocrisy in the non-candidate population. How about it?

 -- Paul Waldman

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