There’s been a lot of talk today about the importance of issues in the Senate campaign, and it seems like one real potential consequence of the Morrison scandal will be that Republicans will be able to equate concerns about Burns’ relationship with Abramoff with the news about Morrison and Harding. It’s already happening with the Klindtbots (here, here, here, and here, to name a few) already criticizing Democrats for wanting to focus the campaign on more substantive issues. That’s not going to let up.
In reality, Morrison has set himself up for this to some extent. The complaints from the Burns people that he is light on the issues are valid–and have been noted here at this blog before. Now, Morrison is in a bind. Running as the electable candidate isn’t a bad strategy, and a lot of candidates have been pretty succesful by being vague, but now that his image has been tarnished, Morrison doesn’t have much to fall back on. I suspect that the instinct might here might be to hunker down and let this blow over, but I hope that the Morrison campaign uses this as a catalyst to get themselves more focused on issues, so that largely personal matters can be put aside.
That being said, in my mind, the adultery does matter. It’s not more important than tax policy or the war, but it’s not totally insignificant. This wasn’t a ‘youthful indiscretion’, and it does say something about the character of a person. Everyone makes mistakes and has moral lapses–and neither should disqualify someone from office, but as a voter, I do need to take it into account. It’ll say just as much about the character of Mr. Morrison’s opponents when we see how they respond.
Assuming there was no improper use of his office, though, there is no way we should let Republicans get away with equating this issue with Burns’ ethical lapses. The Republicans have desperately been trying to distort the Abramoff affair from the beginning, suggesting that it is nothing more than partisanship and personal attack. The thing is, the Abramoff scandal does tell us a lot about Conrad Burns’ character, but it tells us a lot more about him as a Senator. He has basically sold Montana’s Senate seat to the highest bidders, and those buyers are rarely from Montana. It is an issue, not a personal attack, to suggest that our Senator should look out for our Indian tribes, not those of Michigan. It is an issue when our Senator and his staff are implicated in influence peddling.
We don’t need to be on the attack. We just need to keep reminding people about the truth.