The party of uninformed belief

This is an quaint political anecdote that might be of no interest to those outside of the small state of Connecticut, except that it seems to shed more light on the worldview of a once important political party that seems now to have given up using truth or evidence to inform its policy positions or to appeal to voters. It involves Tom Foley, a one time businessman who is again running for the Republican nomination for Governor. Mr. Foley was the Republican nominee last time and lost to Governor Dannel Malloy in 2010.

Two things should be first noted before we look at today’s story. First, this takes place not in Texas, where inventing facts is done with the unique pride that Texas takes in all its peculiarities, or in Alabama, which is, let’s face it, Alabama (as in: “Pennsylvania has two large, relatively liberal cities but in between it’s all Alabama”), but in Connecticut, which until recently had a long tradition of responsible Republican politicians, who tackled actual issues important to the state and nation. Governor Lowell Weicker, for example, bit the bullet and proposed and signed the first income tax. Governor John Rowland pushed for the enactment of a law providing for health insurance for uninsured children. (Yes, he pleaded guilty to a federal corruption indictment, but I’m talking about ideology, not personal integrity.) Even the new crop of reactionary darlings, such as state senator (and hopeless Republican gubernatorial aspirant) Toni Boucher have to cut their ideological sails to the fact that the state is overwhelmingly left-leaning, and they are forced to present a front that hides the nuttier extremism of Republicans elsewhere.

Second, although Mr. Foley spent most of his life accumulating money rather than serving the public, he is not a novice at running for high office. He ran a state-wide campaign as the Republican nominee not four years ago. And he appears relatively savvy in public relations as befits a candidate for serious office, unlike say, Linda McMahon, who poured $100 million of her own fortune into the sinkhole of two failed Senate bids but who could never understand the difference between public relations and promotion of the vulgar WWE, the source of her grime-stained wealth. In addition, Mr. Foley was George W. Bush’s ambassador to Ireland. True enough, that portfolio is the gift to important campaign cash bundlers or other political friends and not given to serious diplomats, but nonetheless one would have expected him to pick up at least a modicum of the ability to think before speaking, especially if the thought expressed would be considered inflammatory. Nevertheless, Mr. Foley seems to have a hard time putting on a front suggesting that he is a serious and reflective statesman. Perhaps this is due to his stint as Director of Private Sector Development in Iraq, where self-delusion was the coin of the realm. We’ll probably never know, because his blunders will likely prevent him from obtaining any office that will involve much public scrutiny, despite his willingness to deplete his own fortune to promote his public service. (He has claimed he will spend $10 million of his own money this time in his pursuit of the governorship.)

Not too long ago Mr. Foley delivered himself of his opinion on that great terror of the modern Republican party: universal, overwhelming voter fraud. It is a central tenet of the GOP that vast hordes of third-world socialists enter voting booths illegally, secretly in most places but elsewhere escorted by armed Black Panthers, and vote against real Americans. This belief is conclusively shown by the election (twice) of Barack Obama, because Republicans cannot fathom how anyone could vote for an African-American. Mr. Foley said:

“There is unfortunately voter fraud in Connecticut and everywhere else in the country that doesn’t get picked up in a recount. So if there were no voter fraud in Connecticut I think I would have won … “

This is of course orthodox Republicanism, but the sentence continued:

” … but that doesn’t mean that [Malloy] didn’t legitimately win because we’re never going to eliminate all voter fraud.”

Mr. Foley allowed himself to be boxed into a corner on this statement and he was forced to concede that he did not have what is technically called “evidence” and called by the layman “any basis whatsoever” for the claim of voter fraud. Mr. Foley’s thinking can be excused even by those whose narrow-mindedness is caused by their need for proof, because Mr. Foley is a Republican. It is no more fair to ask a Republican for proof of voter fraud than to ask an orthodox Catholic for proof that communion wafers are in fact the body of Christ. Both are eternal truths as well as unfathomable mysteries.

But it’s hard to give Mr. Foley such leeway with his next claim. He said that his one time opponent (who was legitimately elected despite massive voter fraud he benefitted from) was guilty of corruption. Here’s how the Stamford Advocate characterizes the allegations made by Mr. Foley on local television last Sunday:

“Foley’s accusations included a claim he’d heard  that Daniel Esty, now commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, had provided Malloy with some sort of compensation during the 2010 governor’s race that wasn’t labeled as a campaign contribution. At the time, Esty worked for a consulting firm. He took the commissioner’s job after the election.

“Foley also said he’d heard that a firm run by former Malloy chief of staff Roy Occhiogrosso had received the contract to do communications for the state’s health exchange, Access Health CT.”

These are fairly detailed accusations, not the usual campaign of insinuation and smear that became the hallmark of GOP campaigns since the days of the sainted Lee Atwater, who harkened back to an earlier dirty tricks era. The specificity peaked the curiosity of normally docile reporters, who asked for proof. Mr. Foley, evidently taken aback, said: “It is a loaded claim and we’ll give you the facts to back it up at another time.”

Allowing himself to be caught flat-footed perhaps contributed to this inelegant dodge, but he was certainly unprepared for the hailstorm of editorial denunciation he received. A Republican from of deep red state would simply concede that the media was hopelessly socialistic and that proved his point. Foley, however, made the mistake of expanding yesterday.  In a telephone interview with The Connecticut Mirror Foley said of the Etsy allegations: ““It’s possible it’s not true. I believe it’s true.” Why did he believe it? Why, because he got it from “two reliable sources,” whose names he was evidently unable to disclose because of the well-known politician-sladerer privilege. How do you know they are telling the truth, the reporter asked. “’How do I know this to be true?’” Foley asked, repeating a question posed during a telephone interview. After a long silence, he replied, ‘I didn’t ask for hard evidence. But these are people who I trust.’” Remember this is his story after he had time to reflect and “give [us] the facts to back it up … .”

Let the reporter, Mark Pazniokas, tell the rest:

“But how were his sources in a position to know about a secret financial arrangement that they say existed between Malloy and Esty?

“’One was in the media,’ Foley said.

“And how did the media person know that Esty paid Malloy while Malloy was a candidate?

“’I assume, like you, people are fishing around, looking at reports, talking to people,’ Foley said. ‘There is buzz.’

“Then why hasn’t the media outlet that employs his source reported the story? Does that mean the evidence did not meet the journalistic standards by which Foley wants to be judged?

“Foley paused.

“’I don’t mean, necessarily, a reporter,’ he said of his media source.”

So there you have it. Responsible Republicans can’t simply make up information, like, say Steve King or Jim Inhofe. But the standard of proof is extremely low when it reinforces their a priori beliefs. A Facebook entry or tweet, which is relied on and the reliance becomes the confirmation. It is a party that has grown so cynical in its quest for power that it deals in scandal and belief systems with almost no interest in policy.

I  keep trying to believe that there is a rump of genuine, disinterested Republicans who have been hijacked by a group of cynical. self-dealing ideologues. But like Diogenes (a Cynic of the old school), I can’t seem to find an honest man.

So until there is some seismic shift in the political dialogue, I am done noting Republican grotesqueries —falsehoods, innuendos, misattributions, evasions, subversions, slanders, etc. In Foley’s case the low road isn’t even warranted 14 months ahead of the election. He lost in 2010 by only a few thousand votes and Malloy is extremely unpopular with an unenthusiastic base. (Malloy, like many Democratic executives, feels his obligation to liberals, the ones they appealed to in the campaign, consists solely in getting elected. Unlike the President, Malloy doesn’t even feel the need to sound progressive occasionally.) But the low road is where Foley’s political instincts, nurtured in the politics of George W. Bush, have led him. And until there is a man-bites-dog story (e.g., Republican appeals to the voters’ better angels) I’m finished reading what they have to say.

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