In Case You Needed Another Reason To Hate Politics

Thursday, March 31st, 2011


Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still in the hospital, but some of her most ardent backers are so enamored of the idea of her running for the Senate that they describe the inevitable campaign commercials: the deep-voiced narrator recounting what happened to her, the images of her wounded, then recovering and speaking into the camera alongside her astronaut husband to call on Arizonans to unite…

While it might be wishful thinking, Ms. Giffords’s noncampaign is already having a major effect on Arizona politics; other prospective Democratic candidates say they feel compelled not to jump in unless she bows out, allowing Republicans to get a head start organizing their campaigns.

“I’m in but only if she’s not,” said one prospective Democratic candidate, who spoke of his deliberations but insisted that he not be named given the fluid nature of the race. “A Democrat running against her would be doomed.”..

“We could do no better for a candidate,” said Terry Goddard, a Democrat who lost a bid for governor last year. “She’s beyond partisanship.”…

She would no doubt benefit from sympathy she would receive as one of 19 people shot that morning. Political analysts in both parties say her rivals would face the difficult task of campaigning against her without appearing too hard-edged.

“Elections are about emotion more than logic, and she will attract a lot of people to her because of that,” said David Leibowitz, an Arizona political consultant who works for Democrats and Republicans.

I of course wish Giffords the best. And if, after making a full recovery, she then wants to run for higher office, more power to her. And for all I know, she may make a darned fine senator.

But that isn’t what’s going on here. Giffords has become an immensely more attractive Senate candidate because she got shot in the head. And, frankly, because she’s still recovering. These whispers actually started weeks ago, before it was even clear that she’d be able to talk again. Try to think of another profession where something like that would immediately make you more qualified for a promotion, before your colleagues even knew what sort of recovery was even possible.

There are many laudable, commendable things to be said about someone who can survive, and then recover from, a point-blank bullet to the head. One thing you can’t say is that any of that will necessarily make Giffords a better legislator. It will, however, unquestionably make her a better candidate, for all the reasons the sleazy political operatives mention above: She’ll get sympathy votes. It will be nearly impossible for an opponent to attack her, even substantively, without looking like an ass. She’ll get a ton of sympathetic press.

And that the qualifications and characteristics that make for a good candidate so starkly differ from the qualifications and characteristics you want in a legislator is really a huge part of the problem.

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74 Responses to “In Case You Needed Another Reason To Hate Politics”

  1. #1 |  Jean Finet | 

    “I of course wish Giffords the best. And if, after making a full recovery, she then wants to run for higher office, more power to her.”

    Based upon what I’ve read of your writing here, how can you say “more power to her” – don’t these guys and gals – the senators, the congressmen, the prosecutors, the mayors, etc. – have far, far too much power all ready?

    It’s one thing to hope she recovers from her being shot, it’s another to hope she succeeds politically.

  2. #2 |  Lucy | 

    Society-wide consensus not to use violence to solve our disputes? Police, prisons and wars beg to differ.

  3. #3 |  Highway | 

    Miroker, either you don’t read this site and other libertarian sites, or you haven’t noticed that the primary way that libertarians want to ‘correct the corrupt system’ is to severely limit its power. It’s corrupt because there’s a lot at stake, and that attracts power seekers and money. And since, as a group (not speaking for individual libertarians, because opinions are as varied as a color chart) libertarians think most of that power that government has is unnecessary in the first place, again, the solution becomes to divest government of that power.

    Unfortunately, when the subject of “How do you reduce corruption in politics” comes up, it comes with the implicit assumption that you keep government doing everything it’s doing now, plus everything you want it to do. The solution of “reduce government power” is off the table from the get-go. So the discussion has to flit around with half-measures and freedom restraints like “Campaign finance reform”, rather than actually addressing the root cause of the corruption: because there’s power to be had.

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    pris: you obviously didnt read the posting very carefully.

    Besides, even if Giffords were running, why should we be super duper considerate because she was shot…we are talking about a US Senator, one of the most powerful people in the world. It should be an important decision, and one that cannot be reversed for 6 years. Would you buy a car based on feeling sorry for the salesman, irrespective of the brand, price, quality, etc?

  5. #5 |  albatross | 


    How that state violence gets used is, however, determined by relatively violence-free processes like elections, trials, and requests for assistance by legitimate property owners. This is very different from the situation in a country where the power to decide how the resources of the state are to be used is itself determined by violence–say, by a military coup, or a campaign of assassinations and terror, or by jailing or disappearing all the opposition to the current ruling party. There are examples of all three of those things happening in other countries, and overwhelmingly, those aren’t places we’d like the US to become more like.

    There’s plenty wrong with the system we have now, but adding in seizing control by violence and threats to the list of ways to get to power seems remarkably unlikely to make the country a better place.

  6. #6 |  albatross | 


    To notice problems is not to have an obligation to fix the problem, or no doctor would ever be allowed to diagnose an incurable illness.

    However, the broad thread of libertarian political thought recognizes these problems with the way power is achieved and used, and proposes having less concentrated power, both by simply eliminating some of it (“Congress shall make no law….”) and by setting up multiple mutually-competing centers of power (courts, states, feds, private property owners, private media), so that it is more difficult for anyone to amass huge amounts of power and use it freely. You can basically go along with this thread of thought, without being a libertarian. I don’t quite fit the definition, for example, though I am deeply skeptical of concentrated power, especially in the hands of governments, and especially in executive branch parts of government (which are optimized for concentrating power in the hands of a small number of people in order to ensure that quick action can be taken at need).

  7. #7 |  Rose | 

    Don’t forget that long before all this happened, Giffords was “targeted” by her own party for not being in lockstep. That makes this all the more sickening.

  8. #8 |  Whim | 

    Ask former Senator John Ashcroft about fighting against the sympathy vote. He was the incumbent GOP Senator in 2000 in the proverbial swing state of Missouri, and was predicted to win re-election.

    His opponent Mr. McCaskill and son then decided to take-off their private plane for a campaign event in very marginal weather.

    Pilots call it “Get Home-itis”. Father and son augered in. Sympathy ensued.

    Ashcroft ended up losing to a dead man. McCaskill’s wife was appointed to fill the seat won by a dead man.

  9. #9 |  JOR | 


    Yes, it essentially comes down to the users and beneficiaries (or at least people who think they are beneficiaries) of state violence being horrified that someone would dare retaliate. Although this still doesn’t quite explain all the attention Gifford gets relative to the shooting victims who actually, you know, died. There really is some idea, at least among Team Red and especially Team Blue types, that politicians (at least on their side) are just more important than the rest of us.

  10. #10 |  JOR | 

    If getting shot and surviving makes one good Senate material, then surely we’d do even better to vote for dead people.

  11. #11 |  Sam | 

    Frankly, I think there’s no reason to be uneasy. I don’t think this really represents what’s wrong with politics. Rep. Giffords was a top choice for the seat due to her qualifications long before she was shot. Politicos were considering the possibility of her running years ago. She was in the past and continues to be pretty much the best chance Dems have at winning the seat, and she previously considered the possibility of running should Sen. Kyl retire.

    Sure, she’d probably win some sympathy votes, but the reason Dems are talking about her running isn’t because she got shot but because she already expressed interest, because she could actually win, and because they think she’d make a damn fine senator. It’s more insulting to her to suggest that she couldn’t run because she got shot than to consider the possibility that she still might go for it and to make plans for it.

  12. #12 |  central texas | 

    “She’ll get sympathy votes. It will be nearly impossible for an opponent to attack her, even substantively, without looking like an ass.”

    Given that is the Arizona GOP who will pick the opposing candidate, I would say that the odds are about 100:1 that he will BE an ass as well as ignorant as a pile of rocks, so I am less sympathetic to your point. Should they find someone who did not recently crawl out from under a rock spouting Tea-bagger talking points, get back to me and I’ll re-assess.

  13. #13 |  Kevin Carson | 

    Know who should run for Senate? Little Timmy, the boy who fell down the well. He’s a hero!

  14. #14 |  Whim | 

    If there are televised debates in the future AZ U.S. Senate race, any mental infirmities exhibited by the AZ Congresswoman will likely be surfaced in a demanding format like that.

    The voters deserve competent representation.

    Back in 2006, ND Senator Tim Johnson suffered bleeding in the brain caused by cerebral arteriovenous malformation. He received brain surgery, was hospitalized for 3 months, and in rehab for 3 more. He’s still not all there.

    VP and former Senator Joe Biden the college plagerizer wasn’t the brightest bulb BEFORE he suffered his massive brain aneurysm. Two actually.

    Maybe that’s why he convincingly repeats the sob story over and over that the truck driver who Biden’s wife mistakenly pulled her family car in front of “drank his lunch”.

    The truck driver was never charged with drunk driving……… Mrs. Biden just pulled in front of a truck on a busy road…..DOA. Biden milked her mistake for every tear drop and vote it was worth, and then some.

  15. #15 |  Whim | 

    Regarding Biden’s repeated sympathy ploys about a “truck driver who drank his lunch” in the 1972 crash that killed Biden’s wife and small child:

    “The rumor about alcohol being involved by either party, especially the truck driver, is incorrect,” said Jerome O. Herlihy, a Delaware Superior Court judge who was chief deputy attorney general and worked with crash investigators in 1972.

  16. #16 |  Windy | 

    Did Biden author the bill that created the ONDCP and office of drug czar before or after his aneurysms?

    Not all aneurysms cause cognitive problems, my youngest son suffered one four years ago and tho he had a minor personality change (he angers more easily but is not violent in anger), his cognitive functions are as good as ever.

    As for Giffords, she was pro-gun rights before, but so was Brady, and he’s not at all pro-gun rights now. Perhaps she won’t be, either.

  17. #17 |  Bernard | 

    The bigger worry I’d have comes further down the line.

    Want to pass hysterical gun control legislation? Who better to propose it?

    ‘How dare you cite the constitution when I’ve been shot in the head!’

  18. #18 |  Kristen | 

    Seems like the PuffHos have already started coming out of the woodwork. Looks like we have a mix of those that can’t/won’t RTFA and pragmatists who think the ends justify the means and we principled libertarians need to get our heads out of our idealist asses and live in the real world that the Ds and Rs made for us.

  19. #19 |  Zeb | 

    “As for Giffords, she was pro-gun rights before, but so was Brady, and he’s not at all pro-gun rights now. Perhaps she won’t be, either.”

    I always think that changes in views based on things like this are weird. Did the possibility that a crazy person could shoot anyone at any time never occur to them before?

  20. #20 |  Cyto | 

    #46 | Radley Balko | March 31st, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Can’t you wait until the woman can speak for herself? Pure, unadulterated filfth, Radley. I thought more highly of you. You have lost a fan.

    I think maybe you need to read the post again.

    Actually, I think it is a perfect illustration of your point… Not only is Giffords beyond reproach, or even comment, even her supporters are beyond the reach of any commentary.

  21. #21 |  Whim | 

    Polling Sympathy Vote in 5,4,3,2,1………

  22. #22 |  Gordon Clason | 

    Hey, you know, why not? Mel Carnahan of Missouri actually managed to win his senate seat in 2000 AFTER HE WAS DEAD.

  23. #23 |  Goober | 

    @#40, Albatross:

    I suspect it’s usually associated with a desire to do good things, to see things run competently, to see bad things ended, etc.

    You and I have a different definition of what is wrong and evil, then. In my opinion, any desire to use power to do that which you consider to be “good things” at the expense of others who might not see those things as “good”, is evil. For instance, some see a total ban on abortion as “doing good” and would use their powers of force and coercion granted them by their position of power to force others, who may not agree, to conform to their views. A more simple example – Obama wants high speed rail. I don’t. He has the power to force me to pay for it whether i want to or not. He sees that as a “good thing.” I call it tyranny.

    Any desire to gain the power to “run things competently” at the expense of others who may not see the things being run as necessary, right functions of government by legislative fiat denies others the ability to “run things competently” by market-based logic by their own will and their own desire. Prime example – Obamacare could be run totally competently and I would still think it to be wrong. Yet, those in power will force me, by coercion and threat of violence if I do not choose to conform, into using it whether I choose to or not.

    Any desire to gain the power “see bad things ended” at the expense of others who may not see those things as bad (gay marriage, the war on drugs, prostitution, gambling – shall I go on?) denies others the ability to continue doing these things that others see as bad but they see as totally acceptable is evil.

    Therefore, the desire to be in power equates directly with the desire to bend other people to your political will, and that equates to evil, whether your intentions are good or evil or whatever.

    The desire for power is simply the desire to use force and coercion to bend others to your will. I call that tyranny. Thank goodness that the tyranny of our elected officials is tempered somewhat by the election process, but they are still tyrants, nonetheless.

  24. #24 |  Goober | 

    @ Albatross Again:

    Someone like Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul can remain relatively pure in their ideology, because they have little power

    This is exactly my point. I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clear enough. Government power must be limited. Drastically. Much more drastically than we currently limit it today, in order to ensure that what you state does not occur!

    If only someone had written a document 200 some-odd years ago that described in detail the limited powers that a government should have, that we could use to restrict the nearly unlimited power that the current government seems to think that it yeilds… Gosh, wouldn’t life just be grand?

    Oh, and I’m sure someone will come on here to tell me that the interstate commerce clause justifies everything the govenrment is doing – it was not intended to be a blank check to government power. The word “regulating” is used in the clause, not “dictating”. Look it up.