Many thanks to Christopher Orlet for his take-down of Sen. David Vitter. Here’s another Vitter story: In his first run for Congress, in a special election in 1999, his runoff opponent was former Gov. Dave Treen. Treen’s grandson disappeared on a hike out in the mountain West during the final week of the campaign. Treen suspended the campaign to go help find his grandson; the presence of a former governor in the last week of a comeback campaign spurred tons of TV coverage, and a TV helicopeter spotted the grandson and the lad was rescued. Treen returned home two evenings before the election, exhausted — only to find that while he was gone, flyers at least tacitly encouraged by the Vitter campaign had gone up all over the black neighborhoods purporting to tie Treen in with former KKK leader David Duke as an ally if not outright supporter. Blacks made up less than 10 percent of the district’s voters, but in an extremely close race they amounted to the key “swing” vote. Sure enough, those fliers had a big effect: Vitter won those black neighborhoods overwhelmingly, and with that overwhelming proportion of the black votes he barely eked out the victory over Treen. Here’s the really sick thing about it: Dave Treen had spent the entire decade of the 1990s publicly opposing and rebuking David Duke, courageously and with great effect. If any major Republican official did more than Treen did to stop Duke’s political rise (by “major” I exclude a number of lesser party officials who did yeoman’s work but didn’t have the profile of a major office-holder), that would be news to me — and I was there in the thick of the anti-Duke battle the whole time. Meanwhile, I would challenge anybody to come up with any significant anti-Duke statements or actions by Vitter, who lived in Duke’s district and feared that outspoken opposition to Duke would hurt his own political career.
So, in essence, we had the self-protecting, not-Duke-opposing Vitter convincing uneducated black voters that the bravely and effectively anti-Duke Dave Treen actually was a closer Kluxer. It was one of the lowest blows I’ve ever seen in politics, made even lower by the fact that Treen had suspended his campaign to help save his grandson and returned too late to effectively respond to the smear.
That story provides yet another example of why Mr. Orlet’s portrayal of Mr. Vitter’s (lack of) character is dead solid perfect.
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