October 24, 2007

Mud in Varna

Last night's Meet the Candidates event in Varna was pretty reasonable until around 8:15, when the questions turned from questions about town issues to a sordid demonstration of how local Republicans imitate Karl Rove's ugliest work.

Mud in Varna
Mud in Varna.

First, a few facts. After the event, I asked (Republican) Highway Superintendent Jack Bush, who seems to be in charge of flags at the Town Hall, why the POW/MIA flag hadn't been flying above the new Town Hall.

It looked like there was only one flagpole - was that some kind of mistake by the architects? No, it wasn't - there are two cords on the pole. They weren't able to just move the old POW/MIA flag from the old Town Hall to the new, though, because of the way it was tethered and because of its general condition. Bush had a new American flag ready for the new flagpole, but didn't have a POW/MIA flag until someone donated one. So the new Town Hall didn't have the POW/MIA flag for a little while. (And it doesn't have lighting for the flag either, something Bush hopes to correct soon.)

Another key fact worth noting - at the very first candidates forum, a questioner had asked Town Supervisor candidate Mary Ann Sumner why she wanted the POW/MIA flag removed. She said that no, she didn't want it removed, and was visibly surprised that the question even came up. She had asked about what the rules were for flying it, but didn't request - and wasn't seeking - its removal.

Someone, though, seems intent on making this an issue. There was an angry question last night about why Mary Ann had kept the POW/MIA flag from flying, something she never did. Another questioner tried to ask if she would fly the flag, though his multipart question broke down in moderation and I don't know how many people heard her say that yes, she'd fly the flag. This claim keeps turning up on Ithaca Journal forums and elsewhere - this completely false issue keeps getting pushed.

How many times does she have to repeat that she'll keep the POW/MIA flag flying before people listen? It's not even like there's been an inconsistency here. (And apparently it's not even under the supervisor's control.)

Providing another sign that the Republicans are trying to energize their base on something other than town issues, John Bailey contested Sumner's belief in God, which clearly wasn't a popular question for part of the audience. She pointed out that the Constitution bars religious tests for office, and no other candidate stepped up to take that issue on. (I guess it could have been interesting to hear if the Republican candidates believe in God - I do - but they avoided the question.)

In classic Karl Rove style, the candidates don't sling the mud - their supporters do. The Republican candidates can stand above the fray - they don't have to ask these questions because other people, whether attendees at these forums or Republican Chair Jim Crawford in his letter to absentee voters, keep plugging away at them for them. It's not Cheryl Nelson asking about the POW/MIA flag, any more than it was George Bush personally tearing into John Kerry's war record.

The Republican candidates don't have to sling the mud personally, but they stand to benefit from its effects. Unfortunately, lies can work, when repeated often enough.

There were also some good questions at the debate, which sometimes managed to focus on actual town issues rather than mudslinging. I'll cover those over the weekend, after my blood pressure's come down a few points. As I said earlier, I'm not nearly cynical enough for this.

Update: The Town has a POW/MIA flag, as Bush stated, but it isn't flying yet. Why? According to Deputy Clerk Patty Millard, the keys for the flagpole lines didn't make it in the transition from the contractor to the Town. It should be up soon, as soon as they have the keys. Further update: Apparently they pulled out a ladder today and finally put the flag up.

Posted by simon at October 24, 2007 7:09 AM in
Note on photos


Sue Gilbert said:

Perhaphs you can't remember back to the first forum where someone asked Mary Ann about the pledging to the flag and about the POW flag. You can probably get a copy of her response from Jim Crawford as he was taping the forum - or maybe you didn't hear it because you were too busy just taking pictures of the Democrats that night

Thanks, Sue - it's good to hear from the Treasurer of the Dryden Republican Committee that it's the Chair of the Dryden Republican Committee that's the source of this false story.

Iretta: "This is a question for Mary Ann. Is it true that you would like the POW/MIA flag removed from the Town Hall? Sorry - these are just things I hear when..."

Mary Ann: "No, it's not true at all, and I'm sorry that you've heard that. I think it would be nice to display the POW/MIA - POW flag separately from the flag right in front of the main Town Hall."

I'll work on getting the audio up, but that does seem like a pretty straightforward answer to an obviously hostile question.

Thank you very much again, however, for confirming that this is coming right from the top of the party!

Randy Hendrickson said:

Years after its creation, the POW/MIA flag litmus is still doing a great job of dividing neighbors. I for one always resent seeing it flying above public buildings. If an individual wants to fly it on their own property, god bless 'em. It is as they say, a free country. But when it is flying above a public building it just seems like a clear sign that political posturing is in full swing. Just look at how much time was wasted talking about that flag when there are plenty of more pertinent issues that need to be discussed.

There is a lot more baggage attached to the POW/MIA flag than just respect for those who did what they thought was right for our country. Doesn't the US flag say everything the POW flag purports to say and more? Why do we need two flags?

I've posted the audio file of the two POW/MIA flag questions from the first candidates forum at:

http://livingindryden.org/audio/politics/POWflag09252007.mov (280KB QuickTime)

I'll work on getting this up as a plain MP3 file - figured sooner was better in this case.