One reason politicians are so despised

is the way they distort the records and actions of their political opponents.  Rich Iott is a Republican candidate for Ohio’s 9th congressional district, running against the incumbent Democrat, Rep. Marcy Kaptur.  For many years he participated, sometimes with his son, in reenactments of historical battles from the Civil War and World Wars I and II.  A harmless hobby, you might think.  But, as anyone who ever played Cowboys and Indians as a kid will remember, sometimes you’re a Cowboy and sometimes you’re an Indian.  So the Democrats dug up a photo of Iott in the uniform of a Waffen SS officer and are now trying to insinuate that this implies that he’s some kind of Nazi sympathizer.

Debating House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va) on Fox News Sunday this morning, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) brought up Iott’s wearing of a “Nazi uniform” as an example of Republican extremism.  Not to be outdone in the stupidity sweepstakes, Cantor quickly denounced Iott as well.  See Cantor repudiates Republican involved in Nazi reenactment – POLITICO Live – POLITICO.com.

Aside from the fact that it demonstrates that television shows need a version of Godwin’s Law, there are a couple of other things worth noting about this exchange. It should go without saying that Wasserman Schultz’s distortion of Iott’s reenactment hobby is despicable.

But what are we to think of Cantor’s response?  The charitable interpretation is that he was surprised by the allegation, and responded with a quick denunciation as a way of trying to quickly defang Wasserman Schultz. The fact that Cantor is Jewish may have led him to respond a bit too quickly to the “Nazi” bit.

But if he was surprised, he shouldn’t have been. This story was circulating in the blogosphere yesterday, and surely the Republican House leadership has people reading all the political blogs.  So what if he wasn’t actually surprised? Couldn’t he have quickly pointed out that Iott’s participation in other reenactments shows that he, like thousands of other loyal Americans, has a harmless hobby? Imagine the hay he could have made had he turned the table on Wasserman Schultz, pointing out that surely she knew of Iott’s other reenactments, as there are pictures of them on his web site. The claim that Iott thus demonstrated his “extremism” is a lie, Wasserman Schultz knows it, and Cantor should have pointed it out.

So why didn’t he? Assuming that he knew the back story, I suppose he wanted to keep the focus on national issues, like the poor economy, rather than get dragged into the minutia of campaigns for specific seats. He may have figured that explaining what Iott had really done would take more than five seconds, and he was likely to get cut off by Chris Wallace.  Even if he did manage to get out the truth, Wasserman Schultz could quickly come up with some other lie (surely she had a few in reserve) that would take even more time to debunk.  And in the soundbite war that passes for political discussion on television these days, short and punchy lines are the only ones worth saying.

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