Doug Gansler and the Richard Nixon Curse

–Richard E. Vatz

“I gave ‘em a sword and they stuck it in and they twisted it with relish, and I guess if I had been in their position, I would have done the same thing.” 

     This great quote from the interviews that Richard Nixon gave to David Frost in 1977 summarizes Doug Gansler’s significant, possibly gubernatorial candidacy-destroying, dilemma. 

     When you are seriously flawed, as virtually every power-seeker is, and you give ammunition to your enemies, which not all power-seekers do in abundance, they (the enemies) will use it to exaggerate your flaws and possibly defeat you and/or destroy your political career. 

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     As by now the entire politically interested world knows, Maryland Attorney General Gansler was first (unfairly) accused of racially attacking Lieutenant Governor Anthony G. Brown.  Subsequently, he has credibly been accused of browbeating state troopers to break speeding laws, lying about not remembering receiving a traffic ticket, and most recently did attend a reception (for which he partially paid) for high school graduates, wherein he blithely ignored what photos make look like an Animal House-like party full of teenagers who are drinking and carousing. 

     As reported by The Baltimore Sun, Gansler claimed initially it was not his responsibility (“Do I have any moral authority over other people’s children at beach week in another state?  I say no”), and then said he did “have a moral responsibility over other people’s children.” 

     The standard rhetorically predictable political opponent’s accusation-by-diffident-distance occurred next: Brown stated, “What the attorney general encountered, that’s a matter for him…the question [of whether Gansler should quit the Governor’s race] isn’t for me; that’s a question for the Maryland voters to decide.” 

     What are the rules for politicians concerning such devastating sets of circumstances?   

1.     Lead by first doing what is right, not by calculation of self-interest.  If that order is followed, doing what is right will serve your self-interest.

2.     Don’t leap to a microphone before thinking out your answer.

3.     Assume that all public events and some private ones are being audio and/or video-recorded. 

     Politicians, particularly those who are not well known, can be destroyed by being erroneously defined (e.g., the racial reference to Lieut. Gov. Brown), but if you have committed mistakes, blunders and irresponsible acts that genuinely reflect a personal weakness, your enemies will stick that sword in and twist it with relish, as would you in their position. 

     Just ask supporters of Richard M. Nixon.

Professor Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University

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