In public accounting, there's a concept known as "independence," which has two aspects: independence in fact and independence in appearance. If you are auditing a company, you may in fact be the most independent person in the world, willing to follow the audit trail wherever it leads, but no matter how much you object, if you own stock in the subject company, you won't be allowed to participate in the audit (by extension, the usual rule is that no firm member can ever own stock in a client company).
This brings me to USA Today reporter Jackie Kucincich, who is the daughter of former Cleveland mayor, multi-term Congressman, and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. She may in fact be the most independent and objective reporter on earth, but given her bloodlines and her father's still-present engagement in politics, from appearances alone she has no business being assigned to cover the presidential campaign of Rick Santorum (there's plenty of other non-conflicting work back in Washington, so I'm not proposing that she not be in the media). No matter what she produces in covering Santorum, it will and should be suspect. It just so happens that her latest write-up would, based on its content, be dubious in any event, as it fits too neatly into the "social values-obsessed conservatives" meme which has been all the rage in the Democratic Party and the establishment press (but I repeat myself). Several excerpted paragraphs demonstrate that obsession (bold is mine):
Ohio GOP voters grow weary of social issues in campaign
Some Republican voters in this key swing state have grown weary of the talk of contraception and religion in the GOP primary campaign.
"I think all politicians need to stick to the economy and get away from social issues," said Marty Folger, 52, a banker from Port Clinton, Ohio.
Folger said she came to Saturday's Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner at Bowling Green State University to help her decide between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
"I've always been more about the economy and when it comes to the social issues I don't really let them play into my decisions," said Folger, who is nevertheless leaning toward Santorum.
Santorum said the presidential election is about "more than just a bad economy" — it is about the "real soul of America" and the concept that "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights." Santorum said that notion "comes from our culture and tradition from the Judeo-Christian ethic. That is where this comes from, this sense of equality."
One woman -- who nevertheless is still leaning towards Santorum -- is all Jackie Kucinich could find to fit her (from all appearances) predetermined theme. But she ran with it anyway.
Anyone who has seen Santorum speak in person -- unfiltered, as yours truly has, and as Kucinich presumably has several times -- knows that he emphasizes the importance of the Declaration of Independence as the foundation for applying the specific measures contained in the Constitution. Without that foundation of non-negotiable God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (not government-granted, and withdrawable at the whim of whoever happens to be in power), the state has nearly free rein to do almost anything it wishes. "Pursuit of happiness" can mean different things to different people, but virtually everyone agrees that it includes the right to pursue individual and family economic improvement. In that sense, Santorum never really gets away from the economy at all during his presentations -- and his audience knows it.
If she's really listened to Santorum, Jackie Kucinich should know this. But admitting as much would bust the stereotypes, and we can't have that.
Perhaps if USA Today had a truly independent reporter on the Santorum beat, a fairer message might come through.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.