by Paul Goldman
At 200-proof, we know our political whiskey: moonshine wouldn’t do here, we like the real stuff, what Al Capone and the boys got from Canada illegally during Prohibition, what Joe Kennedy got from England legally after Prohibition.
Now, a good 200-proof whiskey often goes down better with a 200-proof smoke. So we naturally re-read yesterday’s Washington Post story about His Excellency the Governor and Star Scientific, a publicly held Virginia company that use to trade under a different stock name, but now goes by CIGX. It was once the rage of a few stock jockeys when it sued, if I remember, Atria, claiming Big Tobacco owed teensy, weensy Star Scientific a lot of money because they were using something Star claimed to have invented relative to tobacco processing. Whatever.
A lawyer friend of mine followed the case for years, an expert on such litigation. He asked my legal opinion. I thought it was a scam then, and still do: the judge, or maybe it was a jury, agreed with me. But it did get past a motion to dismiss, so on that score, perhaps my judgement is too harsh.
I read about Cuccinelli and the stock last week, but didn’t really gave it any attention. However, when the Washington Post put on a 200-proof effort to connect the company to the governor of Virginia and the First Lady, then of course 200proof politics has to go out and find a bottle of that stuff. We can guess what aides to Republicans McDonnell and Cuccinelli are saying this morning:
The Post hates all Republicans, now that they got McDonnell to break his pledge and give them their transportation taxes, those liberals are doing what they always do, go after Republicans, first McD, then Cuccinelli, then the Republican behind the tree. Come on, this is penny ante, McD made no money personally, Cuccinelli made $7,500 profit or so, why don’t the liberals at the Post go after McAuliffe, Warner, the guys who make the really big money, yada, yada, yada, yada?
If you read the books on Johnson and Nixon and Reagan and Clinton and McCain, go back to Caesar, it is always the same reaction: everyone plays the victim of a double standard. I have been there: the Post went after Doug Wilder for a business deal, actually a reporting thing with the Conflict of Interests statement, all bs really when you knew the facts, even forced the Attorney General to investigate. As I say, it turned out to be nothing. BUT: He was the sitting Lt. Governor.
McDonnell is the sitting Governor, Cuccinelli the sitting Attorney General. The rules are different for those in public office as opposed to those out of public office. So at 200-proof we say: You play, you pay, it is all fair game. If you can’t stand the heat, then take President Truman’s advice and stay away from the cooking shows on cable.
Moreover, at 200-proof, we have been through the game enough to know the following: Every official candidate gets their turn in the barrel on this stuff. Warner got it, Kaine got, they had to defend business deals, clients, whatever. No one forced you to run for the job.
I am sure Republicans see some grand conspiracy here, aimed at helping Democrats win this Fall. As the saying goes: even paranoids have enemies. Here at 200 proof, we say: the press is merely doing its job, the reason the British put John Peter Zenger in jail back in the early 1700’s, the American journalist whose trial first got the first Masons and Madisons and Jeffersons thinking about a Bill of Rights with the First Amendment first.
A democracy like ours needs to hold its public officials accountable not for loose standards, but for the best tightest standards of ethical behavior. And when people are nominated for such offices, then the press needs to hold them to the same tightest standards, they can’t play favorites. Conservatives have long claimed the “liberal” mainstream media has a double standard: and the talk show left says the “conservative” media has an equal double standard. In our experience, the media is no one’s friend:; they will turn on a supposed “friend” for a good story at a drop of a hat.
Thus for today: Cigarette company Star Scientific, now allegedly reborn as some kind of supplement company with a product that seems all blue smoke and mirrors, carries a big WARNING LABEL for Republicans. This may be totally unfair, since the Post story has no “smoking gun” to use a bad pun. A lot of businesses get investigated, they get sued, they owe money, they go through rough patches, they are owned by someone who has a lot of successes but this particular entity doesn’t make it in the real world. As a lawyer, I believe we all are entitled to the benefit of the doubt at this stage. This is why we had our Revolution.
But that being said: Campaigns are conducted in the court of public opinion where the rules of evidence, the standards of proof, the decisions on guilt or innocence are not the same as a legal courtroom. In politics, we accept different rules of engagement because we value not only a free press, but we want our leaders to pass certain litmus tests on ethical behavior.
Bottom line: The Post deserves credit for giving the Star Scientific story a big ride. Having been there, I can tell aides to the Governor and AG the following: You either clean up the mess or you mess up your boss even more. It reminds me of the great scene from the movie “Moneyball,” where Brad Pitt is talking to Scott Hatteberg about playing first base for the Oakland A’s. Hatteberg has only played catcher before, so he starts to explain the situation to Pitt. But as Pitt points out, due to Hatteberg’s bad throwing arm, he will never play catcher again. So Pitt tells him the truth: those days are gone; if you want to stay in baseball, then you had best learn how to play a new position.
Whatever relationship the Guv and AG had as of Saturday night with Star Scientific, it changed Sunday morning. It ain’t in the same position no more. At 200-proof, we don’t judge the merits of the lawsuits or federal investigations or the products being hawked by Star. We are strategy groupies, hanging five with the surfer girls or Jersey babes depending on the season, and not worrying about morality or amorality. We are even okay with situational ethics if need be. As the saying goes, “it ain’t my wife, it ain’t my life.” We play it as lies, straight up, no ice, no need for a redo. The next shot is all that matters.
For the Governor and AG, Star Scientific comes with a huge GOP warning label this morning. Yet, in a way, the Post did McD and K-Man a favor yesterday. The mess is still fixable, as this is only April – the baseball season has just barely started. If the Guv and the AG can’t handle this hanging curve ball, then Spring Training is just the beginning of their problems.