Who swift-boated Hackett?

As I’ve said before, when it came to the Hackett-Brown senatorial contest in Ohio, my position was that the people of Ohio would be lucky to have either one. It was a good horse race in the sense that the constituents would win either way—and while I didn’t support a particular horse, I did support the race; a primary would have been a good thing. So my interest in the whole situation is not that I’m on the Hackett bandwagon, or the Brown bandwagon, or any bandwagon at all—I’m just consternated by the way the whole thing went down. And as more information comes out, I’m increasingly agitated by what seems to have been going on behind the scenes.

Now Mother Jones reports that someone swift-boated Paul Hackett. Did this come from the GOP, or from somewhere within the Democratic Party?

Hackett’s scorching rhetoric earned him notoriety and cash on the campaign trail. He declared that people who opposed gay marriage were “un-American.” He said the Republican party had been hijacked by religious extremists who he said “aren’t a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden.” Bloggers loved him, donors ponied up, while Democratic Party insiders grumbled that he wasn’t "senatorial."

Swift boats soon appeared on the horizon. A whisper campaign started: Hackett committed war crimes in Iraq—and there were photos. “The first rumor that I heard was probably a month and a half ago,” Dave Lane, chair of the Clermont County Democratic Party, told me the day after Hackett pulled out of the race. “I heard it more than once that someone was distributing photos of Paul in Iraq with Iraqi war casualties with captions or suggestions that Paul had committed some sort of atrocities. Who did it? I have no idea. It sounds like a Republican M.O. to me, but I have no proof of that. But if it was someone on my side of the fence, I have a real problem with that. I have a hard time believing that a Democrat would do that to another Democrat.”

In late November, Hackett got a call from Sen. Harry Reid. “I hear there’s a photo of you mistreating bodies in Iraq. Is it true?” demanded the Senate minority leader. “No sir,” replied Hackett. To drive home his point, Hackett traveled to Washington to show Reid’s staff the photo in question. Hackett declined to send me the photo, but he insists that it shows another Marine—not Hackett—unloading a sealed body bag from a truck. “There was nothing disrespectful or unprofessional,” he insists. “That was a photo of a Marine doing his job. If you don’t like what they’re doing, don’t send Marines into war.”

…But the whispering continued, and Hackett was troubled. “It creates doubt and suspicion,” Hackett told me, saying his close supporters were asking him privately about the rumors. “It tarnishes my very strength as a candidate, my military service. It’s like you take a handful of seeds, throw them up in the wind, and they blow all around and start growing. It really bothered me.”
The MoJo article also gives some perspective to Hackett’s decision not to run for the Congressional seat that was being offered.

He declined requests to switch races and run again in the Ohio Second Congressional District against Rep. Jean Schmidt, saying he had promised the candidates currently in that race that he wouldn’t run. “My word is my bond and I will take it to my grave,” he declared.
That’s a little bit different than the sour grapes attitude that the decision originally may have seemed. The Dem establishment’s offer of a congressional candidacy isn’t much of an offer if he felt he couldn’t, in good conscience, accept it. That’s not necessarily the Dems’ fault, per se, but the concept of trickle-down candidacies—push Hackett out to make room for Brown, push someone else out to make room for Hackett—isn’t a particularly wise way of doing business. Says Hackett, as part of a larger point about the challenges maverick candidates face, of the party infrastructure and insiders:

“These guys…view the Senate as a club. They’re not gonna welcome you if one day they turn the key on the clubhouse door and you are sitting there with your feet on the table flippin’ them the middle finger. I understand that from their perspective. It works for them, but not for the rest of us out here.”
Including, and especially, the constituents.

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