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December 21, 2005

Who is Max Cleland?

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The Maryland Democratic Party’s election campaign website, otherwise known as Baltimore’s Sun (BS), ran a “news story” December 10 on Bo Harmon, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s selection to be his campaign manager.

In an attack ad that was offered as news, the BS cherry-picked convenient quotes to bestow partisan opinions upon unwitting readers – and to trash Governor Ehrlich. It is an old and tired trick in what the BS would like to pass as journalism.

The BS quickly promulgated the moon bat logic that Mr. Harmon is a craven campaign manager who ran “one of the most despicable campaigns in the history of Georgia, if not the nation," according to Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn – “in the successful attempt to unseat Democrat Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia in 2002.”

Sounds like sour grapes more suitable for the National Enquirer or a partisan political newsletter, but hardly a news story.

Indeed, the article makes for an interesting study in the practice of political rhetoric. It has all the ingredients of a coherent political campaign. But, wait – isn’t the BS a newspaper that represents itself as adhering to the high journalistic standards of an impartial purveyor of the news?

Employed in the article was the reiteration of consistent negative talking points, variation of theme and the repetition of rumor and innuendo so as to make it fact and truth.

Moreover, in a great example of one of the basic tenants of negative campaign ads, the article drew broad sweeping conclusions based on out of context information that may not even be true but has plausible deniability.

One certainly hopes that Governor Ehrlich’s opponents list the article as an in-kind donation on their campaign finance reports.

Meanwhile, another coordinated attack by Michael Olesker was then conveniently published at the end of the first news cycle to reiterate the BS campaign platform planks promoted December 10.

The column reiterated what Rich Lowry referred to in a February 20, 2004, National Review article; as the “trumped-up mythology based on the idea that Republicans ‘questioned Cleland's patriotism’ in 2002.”

It all has to do with rehashing the 2002 senatorial election in conservative Georgia in which incumbent political moderate Senator Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran, lost to conservative U. S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss. Desperate Democrats claim Senator Cleland lost because Senator Chambliss’ campaign manager, Mr. Harmon, questioned Senator Cleland’s patriotism by lumping him together in an attack ad with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Olesker continued: “We already knew Ehrlich gave us the Prince of Darkness, Joe Steffen, and we already knew Ehrlich's attacks on hate radio, and we already knew the history of dirty tricks secretly orchestrated against Ehrlich opponents in a series of political campaigns. But we didn't suspect the smiling governor of Maryland would bring in the likes of Harmon, who gave new meaning to the term ‘gutter politics’ when he went after Cleland…”

Ya da ya da ya da.

Then there is the matter of a few curious sentences – that looked familiar. Mr. Olesker wrote that Senator Cleland: “On one of his first trips out, an old girlfriend pushed his wheelchair around Washington. Near the White House, the wheelchair hit a curb. Cleland pitched forward and fell out, flopping around in dirt and cigarette butts in a gutter.”

Compare this to the following written by Peter Carlson in The Washington Post, on Thursday, July 3, 2003, on page C01: “On one of his first trips out, an old girlfriend pushed his wheelchair around Washington. Near the White House, the wheelchair hit a curb. Cleland pitched forward and fell out, flopping around in dirt and cigarette butts in a gutter.”

Hmmm. Okay. Who among us has not missed a proper citation?

Then Mr. Olesker wrote, after he forgot to properly cite words that were not his own: “It took Harmon to put him back in the gutter, three years ago.”

Oh! Pleeeze!

Where to begin? You could teach a semester length class with this material. More time will be devoted to the 2002 ad campaign in another column. Let’s say for now that liberals hate being held accountable for their voting record.

First things first. Can you name the candidates’ campaign managers from the Maryland 2002 gubernatorial election? Can you name any campaign manager, besides Mr. Harmon in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign?

Then, why are the peripatetic gerbils that run the Democrat spin machine so anxious to make Mr. Harmon a campaign issue?

Could we already be seeing the sheer frustration of running against an Ehrlich administration that has accomplished so much in the face of having every dirty trick and obstructionist tactic known to politics thrown at them?

Let’s lay some ground work by introducing Senator Max Cleland… “About whom, the Ehrlich people are now hoping, Marylanders will declare: Max Who?” writes Mr. Olesker.

Well, ex-Senator Cleland, a disabled veteran of the Vietnam War, is undisputedly an American war hero. He returned from the war terribly wounded, only to become a tribute to the human spirit and a role model for overcoming incredible obstacles to serve in political office. Each and every one of us owes this great American a debt of gratitude for his sacrifice for our country.

Joseph Maxwell Cleland was born August 24, 1942, in Atlanta and grew up in Lithonia, Ga. He graduated from Lithonia High School in 1960 and Stetson University, in Deland, FL, in 1964. From 1965 to 1968, he served in the U. S. Army, attaining the rank of captain.

On April 8, 1968, the last day of the Battle of Khe Sanh, he lost both legs and part of one arm in combat.

Many have read published accounts and columns that his injuries were the result of “an accident.” To characterize losing both legs and part of one arm to “an accident” in the battle of Khe Sanh is a Clintonesque formulation and political spinelessness.

For many of us who come from either military service or military families, conservative or otherwise; Captain Cleland’s military service in Vietnam is off the table for any discussion. Just don’t even go there.

In a follow-up column we will pick up the story. We should explore the combat operations in which Captain Cleland was wounded and then examine his return home and entrance into politics, where he served in public office for much of the following 34 years. Something most of us cannot boast about – with all four limbs intact.

It was while serving in the U. S. Senate from 1996 - 2002, that something went very wrong; as Senator Cleland’s voting record evolved to be out of step with his constituency. Then he lost the 2002 senatorial campaign. To be continued.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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