THE RETURN OF THE BULLSHIT ARTIST
In the final days of the 2010 race between then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Republican Jesse Kelly, we observed that Kelly was an outstanding bullshit artist.
Kelly possessed a truly rare ability to spew bullshit. He could badmouth government spending even while his family's construction firm took in tens of millions of dollars from the government (including stimulus and earmarks spending). He could simultaneously support a new federal sales tax of 23 percent on goods and services while complaining that his critics were lying about his support for it. And he could offer prescriptions for the economy like: "We need 20 to 30 years of 10 percent GDP growth to get out of this"—a proposal that any legitimate economist will tell you is absolute nonsense.
That's the kind of bullshit that Jesse Kelly—now facing former Giffords aide Ron Barber in the June 12 special election to complete Giffords' term—feeds voters, day in and day out.
We're using bullshit here in the same sense that retired philosophy professor Harry G. Frankfurt defined it in his well-known essay, "On Bullshit": "Both in lying and in telling the truth, people are guided by their beliefs concerning the way things are. These guide them as they endeavor either to describe the world correctly or to describe it deceitfully. For this reason, telling lies does not tend to unfit a person for telling the truth in the same way that bullshitting tends to. ... The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."
While he may be a more-cautious politician now than he was in 2010, Kelly still pays little to no attention at all to the truth.
He has repeatedly accused Barber of supporting $500 billion in cuts to Medicare, a claim ranked as "mostly false" by PolitiFact and "misleading" by FactCheck.org. He claims on his website that he does "not support privatizing, eliminating or phasing out" Social Security and Medicare "in any way," and then tells voters on the campaign trail that he wants to phase out Social Security by creating private accounts for younger workers. He's made the ridiculous claim that the United States has more oil than Saudi Arabia.
We'll give Kelly this much: If bullshit were an energy source, he could single-handedly power the entire nation for the next century.
WHY WON'T JESSE KELLY TALK ABOUT ALIPAC?
While we're on the subject of bullshit: We understand that all politicians duck and weave rather than say something that can be used against them by their political opponents. Nobody wants to say they're for tax increases to balance the budget—or even point to actual programs they'd like to get rid of, especially when they can generally talk about waste, fraud and abuse.
A perfect example: During last week's CD 8 debate, Democrat Ron Barber dodged Republican Jesse Kelly's question about whether he'd support Barack Obama in the presidential race, saying that "my vote is my vote, just as your vote is your vote.
It was probably Barber's worst moment in the debate; the next day, his spokeswoman, Jessica Schultz, sent out a press release stating that Barber did support Obama.
"Ron's point last night was that the election on June 12 isn't about president Obama, or any other national figure—it's about who is going to do the best job fighting for middle-class families in Southern Arizona," Schultz said. "While Ron does not agree with the president on everything, of course Ron has supported and will support President Obama in the election. His primary focus as a member of Congress will be standing up for Southern Arizonans."
While Barber sidestepped the question about Obama, Kelly has been sidestepping questions throughout his campaign. He refuses to sit down for interviews with the Arizona Daily Star or Tucson Weekly, preferring to deliver canned responses via email to reporters' questions.
While Kelly is adept at delivering sound bites, he and his team have shown little appetite for actually discussing policy matters. In this campaign, for example, he has refused to say whether he would have voted for the budget that House Republicans voted on earlier this year.
And a recent interview with KGUN Channel 9 that should have been an easy profile piece blew up in the Kelly Camp's face after campaign spokesman John Ellinwood came unglued when Kelly was asked about seeking the endorsement of ALIPAC, a anti-illegal-immigration political-action committee that has been linked to white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites by the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and U.S. Sen. John McCain.
KGUN news director Forrest Carr shared the behind-the-scenes tantrum that Ellinwood threw when the question came up, saying that Ellinwood interrupted the interview. After Kelly called the question "out of bounds," Ellinwood continued to berate KGUN reporter Jennifer Waddell for raising the issue. He wagged his finger at her and called the question "trash."
No one has yet explained why the question was "out of bounds," other than it was embarrassing for Team Kelly. The facts are not in dispute: In 2010, Kelly filled out an ALIPAC survey and took the group's pledge to oppose amnesty or any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the United States. Just two weeks ago, ALIPAC renewed its endorsement of Kelly in June 12 special election.
KGUN deserves credit for continuing to ask Kelly about the endorsement rather than giving up, which led to a rather astonishing exchange before last week's debate. KGUN reporter Marcelino Benito asked Kelly four times if he would be accepting the ALIPAC endorsement; each time, Kelly robotically repeated a sound bite for the cameras: "Our campaign is going to stay focused on lower gas prices using American energy, lower taxes and creating jobs."
Carr summed it up well on the KGUN website: "You might also call it the 'Chatty Cathy Effect.' Any question of any kind on any topic might serve to pull a ring on the candidate's back, resulting in a replay of the candidate's pre-recorded and officially approved central campaign themes."
ALIPAC executive director William Gheen, by the way, isn't doing Kelly any favors by attacking KGUN and claiming that all of these stories about ALIPAC's racist links are nonsense, especially when ALIPAC posts stories like "Is Anyone Speaking Out Against All These Black Mob Attacks on Whites?" on its website. He's just keeping the story of how Kelly has sidestepped questions about ALIPAC alive.
Team Kelly's blundering on the ALIPAC question turned a one-day story into a national one—which isn't the kind of damage control most politicians want to see.
But it has also exposed, yet again, Team Kelly's basic weakness: an inability to deal with the media. Team Kelly clearly wants the media in this town to just accept sound bites and not pursue follow-up questions—because if they do, Team Kelly has nothing to give them.
Kelly's inability to respond to this question—and to the press in general—tells you a lot about what kind of congressman he would be.