Larry Sabato Complains of 'Gutter Politics' While Practicing It

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Responsive Politics should, by rights, watch his reputation as a nonpartisan observer of the political scene go up in smoke as a result of inserting himself into the George Allen "N-word" controversy. More than that, he is a longtime practitioner of selective outrage at negative campaigning so characteristic of so many 527 Media journalists and the "experts" they go to for quotes.

Specifically in the Allen situation, Sabato claimed that he KNEW Allen used the "N-word," when he himself actually never heard Allen use it.

The Associated Press reported the following on September 26, in part:

Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, would not tell The Associated Press how he knew Allen used the n-word. He told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that he did not know whether it was true that Allen used the word frequently while in college.

“I’m simply going to stay with what I know is the case and the fact is he did use the n-word, whether he’s denying it or not,” Sabato said.

But an e-mail response by Sabato that was relayed to the Powerline blog made it very clear that Sabato had absolutely no basis for claiming to know what Allen did or didn't say:

I didn’t know these things until the past few months.

People I know and who are very credible contacted me and shared the stories.

Then reporters checked them out: I am not a reporter. Based on everything they learned, they believe the stories and so do I. Other things will determine the election, though.

All of this is especially helpful to know, because a recent and little-noticed contribution by Sabato to political coverage in Ohio makes him appear to be a man who is repelled by negative campaigning.

In a Columbus Dispatch article on July 27, Sabato had this to say about an e-mail sent without authorization by a state Republican staffer that made personal allegations against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland and his wife:

"Every time we think we’ve reached the sewer, there’s a lower level of sewer," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, who has written about dirty campaign strategies in both parties.

..... None of this surprises Sabato, who said that while the public is turned off by gutter politics, the political campaigns of both parties are addicted.

"The operatives today are part of the polarization of our politics," Sabato said. "They’re in an army and they are firing real bullets at the opponents and they want to kill them."

"It is now the accepted mode of campaigning. That’s why it’s so insidious. There’s no limit to what is revealed publicly. … Privacy as a concept is almost dead. It’s all just thrown out there in the hope that something will stick."

But Sabato's outrage at negative politics is a very selective one-way street:

  • In Minnesota's US Senate contest, Sabato's "Crystal Ball" also ignores the computer-hacking theft (HT Powerline) of their opponent's unreleased ad by a blogger who gave it to staffers of Democrat candidate Amy Klobuchar. The theft was reported four days later, and AFTER Klobuchar's spokeswomen and several staffers had viewed the ad. One high-level staffer was fired.
  • - On the other hand, Sabato is positively salivating today at the prospect of a "Democratic Wave" resulting from the Mike Foley fallout.

His complaints to the Columbus Dispatch notwithstanding, one can only conclude that Sabato's take on "gutter politics" is "if it might hurt Democrats, bad, and I won't touch it; if it might hurt Republicans, good, and if it helps I'll even participate."

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.