Crooks and Liars helpfully posts Paul Hackett’s recent Hardball interview. View it, and you’ll see why Hackett has impressed so many, especially in the netroots: he is intelligent and articulate, and avoids just regurgitating talking points. Either he or Sherrod Brown would make an outstanding US Senator from Ohio.
But Hackett’s got a problem that he had better correct quickly.
A magazine interview quoted him as accusing George W. Bush of preferring to snort cocaine rather than serve his country during the Vietnam era. That plays well in the netroots, but it will get him in lots of trouble unless he’s got a better answer than he gave to Chris Matthews. Matthews pressed him on how he knew that, and all he could say was that he had “heard reports” and “where there is smoke, there is fire.”
Well, no. Bloggers might believe it, but a United States Senator doesn’t make accusations like that unless he can back them up. More to the point, this is just the kind of thing that, in best Rovian fashion, can completely change the theme of a campaign. Dewine will spend a lot of time questioning Hackett’s credibility, when the real issue is Bush’s and Dewine’s credibility.
At this point, the best retort is something along the lines of: “we know that George Bush lied about the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, and we know that he lied about the evidence of WMD. He and Mike Dewine have a lot to answer for: they’re the ones with credibility problems, not me.” That works for me, but it might not work for the mainstream media, which will run away from substantive issues as quickly as it can.
This can easily subvert the Senate campaign in Ohio and distract voters from the real issue of Republican mendacity and incompetence. And if you don’t believe me, then ask Dan Rather.
UPDATE: A reader writes in and makes a good point:
“Having read the transcript of the interview Jonathan Zasloff mentions, I agree with Zasloff’s sense that this exchange made Hackett look unprepared for the tricky job of being a public figure. Matthews let him off easy when he changed the subject after backing Hackett into a corner.
“But my thought at the time was, why doesn’t he simply say, ‘Well, George Bush has refused several times to publicly deny these rumors. If he never used cocaine, despite the many claims that he did, why doesn’t he simply publicly say so? When he does, I’ll take him at his word. Until then, it seems an open issue to me.’
“Back Bush into a corner and let’s see if he can paint his way out of it.”