September 27, 2004

by Reb Yudel
I should have posted this before Yom Kippur

Really, a post that touches directly on questions of gossip, slander -- the whole litany of "sins of the mouth" which fill the lists of crimes we read on Yom Kippur -- should be posted before Kol Nidrei, not afterwards.

Two points in my defense. First, this only appeared today on Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo web log, presumably because the Joshua Green's subscribers-only Atlantic Monthly article he quotes just went up.

Second, we are still in the period of repentance, which by one measure stetches through the end of the Sukkot festival, and by another, runs straight through next Yom Kippur. So take this frightening, edifying example of the truly evil tongue to heart over the coming weeks and months.

The story at hand involves top George W. Bush advisor and campaign manager Karl Rove. At the magazine blurb puts it,

Karl Rove is at his most formidable when running close races, and his skills would be notable even if he used no extreme methods. But he does use them. His campaign history shows his willingness, when challenged, to employ savage tactics.

As Marshall says, introducing the following passages, "one of the most lizardly passages in the article describes how Rove launched a whispering campaign against one Democratic opponent suggesting that the candidate -- a sitting Alabama state Supreme Court Justice, who had long worked on child welfare issues -- was in fact a pedophile:"

When his term on the court ended, he chose not to run for re-election. I later learned another reason why. Kennedy had spent years on the bench as a juvenile and family-court judge, during which time he had developed a strong interest in aiding abused children. In the early 1980s he had helped to start the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, and he later established the Corporate Foundation for Children, a private, nonprofit organization. At the time of the race he had just served a term as president of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect.

One of Rove's signature tactics is to attack an opponent on the very front that seems unassailable. Kennedy was no exception.

Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children.

"We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile.

"It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out--he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out."

This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state.

"What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."

For the record, this behavior is not considered lashon hora, which is reporting on true matters. (This post is lashon hora, which I offer in the name of a higher cause.) The behavior described is motzi shem ra, or defamation.

And from a Jewish standpoint, from the perspective of the Yom Kippur machzor, what this behavior -- slandering a good man in the worst possible way precisely because of his innate goodness, damaging him, his family, and the children he helps -- says much about the character and values of the man who acts this way. But it says much more about the character and values of the man who pays his salary.