Whitnum’s message is lost in vitriol

The waning moments of last week’s Democratic debate for candidates running for the U.S. Senate suddenly turned into one of those moments that will be long remembered in Connecticut political lore.

Fringe candidate and Greenwich resident Lee Whitnum shocked many by referring to front-runner U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-5) as a “whore” for supporting Israeli interests, a move that earned her quick condemnation from Gov. Dannel Malloy, State Democratic Party Chairman Nancy DiNardo and locally from Selectman Drew Marzullo. Ms. Whitnum has not apologized for her remark, instead putting the blame on Mr. Murphy for what she sees as his ignorance over Israel’s influence on American policy.

For anyone who has spent any time reading Ms. Whitnum’s statements or hearing her speeches, this is nothing new. She is in this race, just as she has been for past runs for Congress, for one reason: To criticize Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). She has set herself up as a crusader for the cause of bringing to light AIPAC’s influence over our government, which she said has steered the country into a politically, economically and spiritually disastrous war in Iraq. She has taken her share of criticism in this race and the one she ran in 2008 when Mr. Malloy and others accused her of anti-Semitism.

In her debate appearances, interviews and campaign press releases, Ms. Whitnum seems to enjoy throwing the term “neoconservative” around much in the same way red-baiting politicians in decades past loved to accuse people of being Communist. Neoconservatism is a political philosophy that has been in place in this country for decades, dating to conservatives demanding we take a far tougher line on those pesky Soviet Communists. Agree or disagree with neoconservatism, it’s a philosophy that can be debated and discussed. It is a political philosophy, not some kind of grand conspiracy where U.S. politicians get their marching orders directly from Israel, as Ms. Whitnum contends.

This is not to say that Ms. Whitnum doesn’t have the right to express her opinion or that she can’t do so while running for office. Buried deep in her argument is the start of a real debate. One could argue that AIPAC is far too powerful a lobby in Washington and that the current leadership of Israel has not moved toward a true effort for peace with the Palestinians, but those are extremely complicated issues and Ms. Whitnum does them no service with her poor debate preparation, one-note responses and name calling.

As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” and when the medium is spouting vitriol and calling her colleagues names, we lose the meaning of what she is trying to say.

Ms. Whitnum is right about one thing. Questioning current Israeli leadership and what our foreign policy should be does not automatically make you anti-Semitic. But Ms. Whitnum takes this issue to such an extreme that even those who might agree with part of her argument would be left uncomfortable by her remarks and her behavior.

Ms. Whitnum cannot behave in the manner she has in the past and expect to be treated as a serious candidate. She has no one to blame but herself for her current reputation. She came off as ill-prepared in the debates and blaming AIPAC and Israel for everything seemed to be her go-to answer. The ignorance in this case is not Mr. Murphy’s. Our political process will be better off the sooner she leaves this race to the serious candidates.

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