Robert Bennett: Thoughts on the need for a bit more thought

Published: Monday, May 5 2014 8:45 a.m. MDT

Fans hold up signs in support of the Los Angeles Clippers before Game 5 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Los Angeles. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver later announced that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life by the league, in response to racist comments the league says he made in a recorded conversation.

Associated Press

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A few thoughts on last week’s news:

"Private" conversation?

Donald Sterling learned that he is going to lose his NBA team because of racist remarks he made to his girl friend, which he assumed no one else would ever hear. He should have learned from the example of former Gov. Blagojevich of Illinois, who went to prison because he assumed no one would ever hear the comments he made about using his power to benefit himself. The careers of both men were destroyed when their remarks went public after having been caught on tape.

Some have reacted to this by asking, “Whatever happened to the right to privacy?” It pretty much went away in the age of social media. People now post everything they think and do each day, either on Facebook or their blogs, which has created a culture in which everybody wants to know everything about everybody else. The temptation to tape and then post is overwhelming. The former governor and soon-to-be former Clipper owner were unaware that they were being taped, but they should have remembered a basic rule of politics: “Treat every microphone (and conversation) as if it were live.”

Jumping the gun

When Federal Agents visited Nevada to seize rancher Cliven Bundy’s cows, some media outlets portrayed him as noble; a rugged individualist with enough courage to stand up to an abusive government.

Bundy is in fact a serial trespasser who illegally entered Federal land for over 22 years, a scofflaw who ran up $1 million in unpaid bills while doing so. On national TV, he demonstrated that he is also a bit of a nut. The reason he didn’t pay the government, he said, is because he isn’t sure it exists. He also thinks slavery was a good idea. Holding these and similar opinions, he said, makes him “just like the Founding Fathers.”

In the end, there was no bloodshed but there were plenty of media types with egg on their faces. They should have remembered another political rule, “Keep your powder dry,” meaning, “Don’t commit until you have heard all the facts.”

Raising money, raising havoc

The Washington Post published the financial records of a large number of political action groups that run under the Tea Party banner. They show that such groups are good at raising money, but most of it goes into the pockets of the people running them.

One example comes from Kentucky, where Tea Party Patriots has been raising money on support of Matt Bevin, the conservative challenger to Senator Mitch McConnell. The group’s President, Jenny Beth Martin, said they were doing it in order to “put our money where our mouth is.” However, the records show that while $56,000 went to Bevin, in the form of mailers, more than twice that amount went to Jenny Beth Martin, in the form of consulting fees.

The paper says, “Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major Tea Party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation.“

Could it be that those who raise money by stirring up emotions with political rhetoric, on both the right and the left, secretly hope the cause they are promoting will never succeed, because, if it did, they would be out of a job?

There is applicable political rule for this situation as well: “It’s not how much money you can raise, it’s how much lead you can put on the target.”

Robert Bennett, former U.S. Senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

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