This one’s pretty sick. The Tennessee Republican Party is suggesting that a school curriculum that mentions Buddhism and Hinduism in discussing the history of India is an offense to “Tennessee values.”

“The Core Curriculum website teaches belief in many gods and ancestor worship,” the ad says. “See that radical curriculum for yourself . . . Is this what we want our kids learning about in the second grade?”

Note the Hilleary campaign gives the same slimy reaction as Baucus gave to the gay-baiting ad in Montana: “This isn’t our ad, so we’re not responsible,” as if the top-of-the-ticket candidate had no control over the state party machinery.

Aside from Andrew Sullivan, who doesn’t like gay-baiting no matter who does it (but seems ok with other forms of prejudice), I have yet to see anyone in the right blogosphere object to the persistent use of bigotry and other dirty tricks by Republican candidates. This is in fairly sharp contrast to the practices of the left blogosphere, and seems to me to reflect a real difference between liberals and conservatives in terms of willingness to criticize their own side. (Compare the “liberal” Washington Post or Boston Globe with Fox News.)

A conservative blasted for doing something Jimmy Carter had suggested would have at least a reasonable hope that Carter would come to his defense. But no one expects Bill Bennett, one of the sponsors of the “Core Curriculum” in question, to defend Breseden.

I think the difference is a legitimate source of pride: to be liberal is, fundamentally, to be fair-minded. I wouldn’t want to change it. Still, I suspect that it’s a source of political weakness. “The best lack all conviction…”


Jason Rylander, a Democrat whose well-written weblog I hadn’t seen before, illustrates my thesis by complaining bitterly about an ad in a New Jersey congressional race where the Sumers, the Democrat, attacks Garrett, the Republican, on gun control, using a picture of John Allen Muhammed. Ryland’s headline is “DESPICABLE.”

Take a look for itself, but I’ll illustrate another characteristic of liberals by disagreeing. The ad is certainly raw, but I don’t think it’s over the line. Garrett had, the ad points out, voted against making a domestic-violence restraining order a disqualification for gun ownership. That turned out to be the one disqualification Muhammed possessed; that’s what allowed his arrest on federal gun-law charges before the ballistics comparison clinched the case.

Now obviously the law didn’t keep Muhammed disarmed. On the other hand, if the question is whether people who have domestic-violence orders against them but no criminal conviction are safe to be trusted with guns, Muhammed is clearly a piece of evidence for the “No” side. Surely using anecdotes instead of data doesn’t count as a campaign dirty trick.

Rylander makes two points. First, that there’s no connection between Garrett and the sniper incident. That, I think, is wrong, for the reasons given above. Second, “I find this issue too raw for politicians to use to score cheap political points. I don’t have a problem with Sumers taking Garrett to task on guns and other issues, but using Muhammed as a prop is just demagoguery. I find it offensive.”

That’s a fair point. Arguably the ad is in bad taste (though less so where it’s being shown, in New Jersey, than it would be if shown in the DC area where Rylander lives). It also makes two false suggestions. It mentions the “assault weapon” ban, which is hardly relevant since the Bushmaster isn’t, by legal definition, an “assault weapon,” and it shows a headline about a “link to N.J.,” which seems to hint at a connection to Garret which is not in fact present.

But “despicable”? Not to these eyes. Certainly not at the level of Sanders’s nasty wisecrack or the Tennessee nonsense above. Politics ain’t beanbag.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: