Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More Republican Dirty Tricks

It shouldn't surprise us anymore. A Republican starts a rumor, or perpetuates it, in order to slander a Democratic rival. Heck, we've just endured an election with Republican-funded Swift Boat Vets attacking war hero John Kerry. And where in the world did Drudge and worldnetdaily get that easily disproved rumor about Kerry supposedly having an affair? The question is whether this is part of the playbook, and with Rove being idolized by the Right it is difficult to come to any other answer than "yes."

Today's example comes in Maryland, where Republican Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. recently was forced to fire longtime aide Joseph Steffen, who has admitting to spreading a rumor about marital infidelity on the part of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and his wife, Baltimore District Court Judge Catherine O'Malley. A couple days ago the Washington Post got evidence that Steffen had spread the rumors for nearly a year, and Ehrlich was forced to fire Steffen. Despite that Steffen is admitting his role, Ehrlich says it is "too early to apologize." Perhaps Ehrlich is just following the Rove/Bush mantra, which is explicit by now that the buck always stops somewhere else.

This episode is ugly, and shows zero regard for "family," an issue the Republicans try to claim as their own.

O'Malley said the rumors began to take a severe toll on his family. He said barely a week goes by without his wife, Catherine, a Baltimore judge, having to defend his character.

And he recalled a particularly distressing night when an aide called to tell him about identical reports pouring into a local television station's anonymous tip line. Five people had called in to say their children attended school with O'Malley's children and had heard the young O'Malleys saying, "Daddy doesn't live with Mommy anymore."

It's hard to believe that Governor Ehrlich didn't know Steffen's reputation. In interviews in connection with this story it appears that political hardball of the most disgusting kind is exactly what Steffen is paid for:

"They call me the Prince of Darkness," Steffen said in the interview.

In the mid-1990s, Steffen worked on Ehrlich's congressional staff, and during Ehrlich's 1996 reelection campaign, Democratic candidate Connie DeJulius blamed Steffen for a leaflet that described her as a home wrecker.

Ehrlich said Steffen "handled some tough constituent issues" for him but was not engaged in dirty tricks.

Steffen joined the governor's transition team after the 2002 election and then took a series of jobs within the administration, which Ehrlich described as "troubleshooting." Ehrlich Chief of Staff Steven L. Kreseski said Steffen played an important part in helping a Republican administration take over a state bureaucracy that had been in Democratic hands for 36 years. "We needed people out in the agencies that the governor trusted, who understood his mind-set," Kreseski said.

Several of Steffen's co-workers said in interviews that he parachuted into agencies, set up an office with a statue of the grim reaper on his desk and began assembling lists of people who should be fired.

"I had been advised by my boss that he had a hit list," said Tom Burgess, a former state Department of Human Resources administrator who was fired after Ehrlich took office. "We were all very concerned about him."

Is this good government, a governor who allows one of his aides to spread slanderous rumors in an attempt to destroy not just a political career but a rival's family? Of course not. Is it good government to have an aide with a "hit list" with which to change government? Certainly that isn't a deliberate and orderly method of reform. Is it the Republican Way, and will we see more of it? Can anyone doubt that in the age of Rove?

Spit twice, folks.