Warning: Paul Hackett

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.

–Jonathan Zasloff

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.”

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.