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September 15, 2010

Why I'm Down On Out-of-Nowhere Candidates

One word: Vetting.

Tea Partiers like people with limited experience in government -- they haven't been tainted by the system, corrupted by it. And, of course, they don't have a long track record of disappointing them. (Yet.)

But there's a good reason to like candidates with the Establishment Code of Approval, people who have been around the block -- you have a pretty good idea of what dirt is lurking in their background. And most of it is old dirt -- it's baked in the cake, unlikely to change anyone's minds when it's floated in the press or in negative ads. Sure, it will be floated, and sure, bad stuff always sounds bad no matter how old it is, but there's a big difference in your reaction to the statements Your girlfriend once slept with this guy you know and You girlfriend slept with this guy last night.

The former eats at you. The latter destroys you.

People who have been in the system in the while have had their backgrounds pawed at. And at each level of high office -- at each new level on the ladder as an ambitious politician climbs -- there is a new level of scrutiny, a higher level, a nastier level.

Typically politicians jump just one level of "promotion" -- they go from, say, a State Senator to Congressman. Whereas before they were getting fairly light Level 2 scrutiny, now they're getting more serious, but still not super-prying, Level 3 scrutiny. Sure, the new level of scrutiny might turn something bad up, but usually if they pass Level 2 scrutiny, you have a pretty good reason for believing they'll pass Level 3 scrutiny too. Sometimes they won't, of course, but usually they will.

My danger-sense starts tingling when someone skips multiple levels of promotion all at once or when an untested outsider runs out of nowhere. Because I know that whereas before they got only Level 2 scrutiny, but now they're going to get Level 4, and now Level 4 has a significant chance of bringing up disqualifying information to light. Or, perhaps they didn't even get Level 2 scrutiny. Maybe no one's seriously dug into their records at all because they never seriously sought high office. Now they go from Level Zero to Level 4.

And the odds of bad stuff coming out zoom up.

Politicians, as much as we mock them for their scandals, actually, I think, tend to have (as a group) fewer of these problems than most people. Or at least the group of promotable politicians don't. They are generally free of bad debts, bitter divorces with lots of nasty allegations in court records (and spouse's memories), acrimonious business disputes, etc. Sure, a guy like Ted Kennedy killed a woman, and apparently the people of Massachusetts were just fine with that, but he didn't really have any kind of chance at being promoted to President. His upward climb was arrested. He could keep being Senator with one corpse to his record, apparently, but he could not go any further up the ladder.

It gives me great pause when a relative cipher is now running for a big fat office. Because I know they haven't really gone through this hell of disclosure and digging before. And most people do bad stuff. And some of that bad stuff will look a lot like automatic disqualifiers for high office, particularly when the news is fresh and not long chewed-over and digested and baked in the cake.

We see this happening a lot. Sharon Angle goes from State Senator to US Senate candidate, and stuff about massages for prisoners surfaces, unexpectedly. But we should have expected that sort of thing, or something like it. Maes in Colorado is promoted by the Tea Party as an outsider, and now has so much bad stuff surfacing the Tea Party has abandoned him and the GOP is pressing for him to drop out of the race. Rand Paul floats some odd notions about the Civil Rights Act that no one thought to ask him about when he was an opthamologist.

And I know that people think that there was some kind of coordinated "hit" on Christine O'Donnell, but when you think about it, when else would this all have come out? Back when she was just a nobody panelist on CNN's morning shows? When she ran as a sacrificial-lamb no-shot we-just-need-a-name-on-the-ballot obligatory candidate against Joe Biden in 2008?

No. This is the first time she has been seriously threatening to have something of a genuine chance at taking a high office. She's never really been through this before. No one's bothered looking up the particulars of her lawsuit against ISI before. Of course this all comes out now. There was never before any reason to dump on Christine O'Donnell.

I remember when the Tea Party Express promoted Joe Miller, and this was my big reservation. And the amount of work I'd have to do to offer an endorsement -- essentially, I would have to vet the guy myself on Google, and even then, look, his worst stuff would probably not yet be on Google. But ultimately I just looked at the basic outline of his resume -- West Point; Gulf War; Bronze Star; sitting judge -- and realized that most "vetting" had already been done. Take that last one, sitting judge -- judges are subject to all sorts of scrutiny and can be disrobed if they go way over the line. Sure, judges are sometimes found to be wearing thongs under their robes, etc., but as a rule-- a judge gets serious scrutiny all the time. Maybe there's some dirt there; but most likely, he's clean. Or at least clean enough. Combine that with a Bronze Star, which is enough to wipe away a certain amount of sins that would destroy another candidate (see McCain, John, and his horrible treatment of his first wife), and I was reasonably satisfied that there would be no explosive material coming out of his background. I could endorse him in good conscience, and not feel I was setting my readers up for a nasty surprise.

Sure, that nasty surprise could happen. Still could. But the odds of it are fairly low, and certainly it's worth taking the shot.

"Establishment" Republicans and Tea Partiers might come down differently on that last question -- when is taking a risk warranted? -- but I don't think it's a bad thing that "Establishment" RINO-lovers like myself are thinking about this stuff, worried what may come up when a relative unknown is suddenly glared by the 5000 watt halogen lamps of public vetting.

There is always one big thing that causes huge rows on the internet, and life. That thing is: When you "know" something but don't really know it, can't prove it, and you're arguing with someone who "knows" something, but doesn't really know it, and can't prove it. It's a frustrating thing, two people shouting their hunches at each other. I have hunches; some of my readers have hunches; and sometimes we scream hunches at each other, and it's frustrating as hell, because we all kind of believe our hunches, but of course can never prove them, especially not to the extent to change the mind of someone with an opposite hunch.

I think this is at work with a lot of the candidates. It is my hunch that in many cases, very damaging information is right around the corner, and will blow these candidacies up. I think that Tea Partiers have the opposite hunch, that these are "good ordinary folks" and therefore there's not a lot of damning dirt in background.

None of us can prove this. It's all hunches. I've been extremely happy to find that there is apparently no more dirt and nothing disqualifying in the backgrounds of Angle and Rand; whew!, I say, mopping my brow.

On the other hand, it seems the Colorado Governor race is now lost to Republicans, unless so much more dirt comes out to compel Maes to drop out; and I think the Christine O'Donnell stuff will doom her (and I feared this vague stuff before I even knew what it was) and my further hunch is, unfortunately: And there will be more, too.

I can't prove that. And it's pointless to even try now: The primary is over. But this is the sort of thing that is driving us "elitist" "Establishment" "RINO-loving" "DC cocktail circuit" "candy-asses" (as Dan Riehl termed us last night).

Some people are betting their hopes. Other people, like me, bet my fears. Some people like to take big chances in poker; other people are naturally grinders, who don't go for big chances, but feel the best way to win is to take a bunch of small pay-off sure things over the course of a long, long period of playing, each hand being a very minor contribution to the kitty, but winning a lot when we bet at all.

We can't convince each other, apparently. And even trying to do so leads to bitter fighting and name-calling.

But I did want to at least clarify my position on this, and explain why I am a "candy-ass" when it comes to these untainted, but unvetted, candidates.

I have a lot of bad stuff in my background. I know that about myself. I extend from my own experience and guess: Most people have bad stuff in their backgrounds. I feel comforted by candidates who have had to prove in multiple confrontations with the opposition -- both the media and Democratic dirt diggers, as if there's a difference -- that they don't have too much bad stuff in their background, and that it's not too bad.

I get scared as hell when people I know for certain have never had a confrontation with this nasty system of vetting suddenly leap into it.

And personally, I've just finally gotten over my heart attacks over Angle and Paul and now feel comfortable with them. (Joe Miller wasn't a heart attack for me; I was sold on him.)

I was hoping to have no further heart attacks, to engage in no further high-risk bets.

Again, other people have different comfort levels with risk, and that's fine.

But I don't think that I am -- nor are the people who think similarly to me -- bad people or a sell-outs or fake conservatives or candy-asses for having a lower tolerance of risk. And a greater aversion to political heart attacks.

By the Way: This is the second time I wrote this. I had finished it at 11:40, after writing for 40 minutes, and guess what? The stupid computer was on that automatic update countdown and I hadn't noticed. So as I was drawing to my conclusion the thing just shut down. And no damn freaking auto-save or anything.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I had begun blogging very early at the crack of 11:08.

On That Risk Analogy: On Twitter I remarked -- lightheartedly, not snidely -- that my fellow conservatives were turning into wild-eyed, casino-mad crazy gamblers. That really is a strong analogy for me, because that's the way I see it: We, as a group, have been in the casino for a long time, and we've made a lot of risky bets. Most of these have paid off -- Angle, Paul. Some haven't -- Maes. One big one -- Miller -- just paid out big.

And now I (and others) are trying to herd the group out of the casino, advising "We've had a great night, now let's bank our winnings and leave here as winners, overall," but other people are saying, "No, no, NOOOO! More betting! More betting! I have to catch that Joe Miller rush again!"

I feel that way. I do. I feel I'm offering the voice of prudence here and a lot of people are caught up in the rush of action and tumbling dice and are calling me a buzz-kill for offering the sort of sound advice which will look a hell of a lot better in the light of day. Or the light of early afternoon, after we all wake up after a jittery, wild late night at the tables.

And I get that people want to gamble, and I get that people disagree with me on whether our bets are prudent, and whether some "winnings" -- like Mike Castle -- are even winnings at all.

I just hate being called an asshole or sell-out or candy-ass or RINO for offering what is, in my mind, perfectly good advice which, seriously, is offered with the movement's best interests at heart. Even if you disagree with me, I wish people who disagreed would accept that I am offering this advice with best intentions. I am not looking to screw anyone. Quite the opposite.

And that's why Mark Levin is dead to me. He seems incapable of accepting that people of good heart and spirit might disagree with him; everyone who disagrees with him, it turns out, is a monster who just wants to "destroy" Christine O'Donnell because we're all secretly liberals.

Which is the sort of thing a degenerate gambler says when you try to pry him way from the table. But you've got the problem, not him, you know?

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posted by Ace at 12:25 PM

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