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Friday, October 19, 2012

On Iran Sanctions, Thompson Fails Integrity Test

Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson
I don't know what to make of Tommy Thompson performance in the Wisconsin Senatorial debate last night, other than to wonder whether perhaps Tommy is not well. The political lion who was the state's longest serving governor is still in there somewhere -- you can see him at times -- but this is one confused lion. And that became very apparent. It was on the subject of Iran that things started to look a little shaky.

The Thompson campaign had leaked a story to the press earlier in the day that detailed opponent Tammy Baldwin taking $60,000 from an organization that opposed sanctions against Iran. That in itself is no big deal. You can agree or disagree with the sanctions approach to Iran. If you think an anti-sanctions position is worthy of criticism, go ahead and criticize away. It's a foreign policy debate that would be absolutely within bounds. We'll get into all that in a moment.

But consider, if Team Thompson had leaked the story ahead of the debate, that means the candidate spent the day -- at least -- preparing to discuss the issue. The result of that cram session? This:

It is necessary to prevent Iran and Ahmadinejan (sic) — who is an individual that is somewhat mentally impaired, who believes that the Holocaust never existed, believes that Israel should be destroyed, and has threatened America that they’re going to blockade the Gulf of Hormuth (sic), which would block all the oil going worldwide, and it would enter us into a world depression.

He can't remember the name Ahmadinejad or the real name of the Strait of Hormuz (in fact, he can't even picture it in his mind; a strait and a gulf are entirely different things). He'd had to have been going over this again and again -- it was, after all, pretty much the entire strategy to winning the debate -- and Thompson still couldn't get even the most basic facts down. Worse, he kept referring to the organization which made the Baldwin contribution -- Council for a Livable World -- as a "company," prompting an exasperated "Who are you talking about?" from Baldwin.


I don't think I can stress enough the fact that Thompson had in all likelihood spent a good deal of time going over all this stuff. Yet when the moment came, Baldwin was accused of supporting a company that wanted to go easy on some Ahmadinejan guy who wants to blockade the Gulf of Hormuth. No wonder Tammy had no idea WTF he was talking about.

Meanwhile, Tammy brought up the issue of stock -- sold by Thompson that very day -- in a company that does business with Iran. Thompson still owns stock in several other companies that do the same. It was one of his more embarrassing moments in the debate. "Thompson said the stock was purchased by his broker. He said he only found out about it Thursday and sold it immediately," reports "The answer prompted some laughs in the audience of about 350 people."

As I said, it's entirely legit to have a disagreement over sanctions. Baldwin has begun supporting sanctions lately -- probably a combination of running a high-profile, high-stakes campaign for the US Senate and shifting facts on the ground. But the case against sanctions is very, very good. Oppressive governments are run by megalomaniacs. Megalomaniacs are by definition selfish. They're also in positions of power. Therefore, the very last people who are going to be hurt by sanctions are the oppressors. We saw this play out in Iraq, where the people were struggling under sanctions, while Saddam Hussein had a palace on a corner every three or four blocks. Sanctions didn't harm him a bit, because he was able to use his power to shift the burden onto his victims. You might also want to take a look at Cuba while you're at it. Sanctions are what you do when you say, "Well we have to do something," but have no idea what else to do -- a Hail Mary pass. Only this pass never seems to actually lead to a completion.

But Thompson's disagreement with sanctions was not legit. It was demagoguery. He was claiming that not supporting sanctions was equal to supporting the oppressive government in Iran. Meanwhile, he's shipping money off to Iran in the form of investments.

Maybe sanctions should start at home, Tommy. Maybe you should stop literally supporting the Iranian government (don't think they don't see a little piece of any business that happens in that country), before you dishonestly accuse someone else of doing it. You don't get to send money to Iran, while arguing that it's a terrible, terrible thing to allow people to send money to Iran. Hypocrisy married to demagoguery is the worst. Just the worst. And you're absolutely guilty of it.

So yeah, Thompson seemed to have everything all screwed up and confused last night. But that's not what disqualifies him in my book. What makes him unfit for the US Senate is his easy willingness to engage in demagoguery and hypocrisy. We have enough people like that in the Senate already. Tommy Thompson would just be redundant.


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