KNIGHT: Foiling the left’s character assassination

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It was 10 years ago that Hillary Rodham Clinton famously lamented “the politics of personal destruction.”

The former first lady and future secretary of state used the phrase upon the release of her book “Living History.” Addressing her husband Bill’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, she said:

“I think that these were obviously personal and private moments that unfortunately were made public for partisan, political purposes — a part of the ongoing politics of personal destruction that was so much a part of our country’s life and certainly our time in the White House.”

Since then, liberals have perfected the art of personal destruction — not that trashing your opponents is solely the province of Democrats. It’s just that they’re better at it.

It also helps not caring whether the claims are true. Depending on who is being accused, the media will not bother looking too closely.

Remember when Democrats pretended to hear racial insults from Tea Party members while marching across the Capitol grounds with Nancy Pelosi and her giant gavel during passage of Obamacare? Evidence abounded that it was a ruse, but reporters looked the other way.

Last Thursday, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was finally acquitted of cooked-up charges of money laundering dating back to 2002. The Texas Republican had long insisted that he and some co-defendants had done nothing wrong except to be very successful at fundraising.

The Texas Third Court of Appeals majority agreed, stating that, “The evidence shows that the defendants were attempting to comply with the election-code limitations on corporate contributions.”

For a decade, liberals bruised by Mr. DeLay’s highly effective legislative tactics gleefully added the word “disgraced” to his name. Now that he’s cleared, what will Mr. DeLay do to get back his reputation?

There is a story about a rabbi falsely accused of a great wrong. The accuser, having a bout of conscience, admitted to him that he had been mistaken, and asked what he could do. The rabbi took a pillow, ripped it open and let the wind scatter hundreds of feathers. “You can gather each and every one,” the rabbi said. Once reputations are damaged, they are difficult to restore.

This is why “Have you stopped beating your wife lately?” questions are so effective. Today’s political equivalent is a charge of bad motive, such as racism, homophobia, xenophobia or wanting to destroy the planet.

If you espouse voter-ID laws, for instance, you want to disenfranchise minorities of the right to vote.

If you support laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, you hate homosexuals.

If you believe in conservation, but refuse to buy into global-warming hysteria, you are a “climate-change denier.”

If you think the Second Amendment is not negotiable and that taking guns away from law-abiding citizens won’t stop madmen and terrorists, you favor gunning down innocents.

If you don’t think that faith-based institutions should be forced to violate their consciences by requiring them to provide abortions and contraceptives, you are “waging a war on women.” The same goes for people who oppose abortion as the taking of a human life.

If you favor border security and enforcing immigration laws, you are “anti-immigrant,” which is a synonym for “racist.”

If you don’t think the government should force banks to offer mortgages to people who can’t afford the payments, you want poor people to go homeless.

If you don’t regard government dependency such as having nearly 50 million Americans on food stamps as a sign of progress, you want people to go hungry.

Once you’ve been accused, it’s hard to escape the politics of personal destruction. The answer is not to go silent or be defensive, but to turn the charge back on the accuser.

For instance, why not ask people who oppose photo-ID voter laws why they want to maintain a system in which the most vulnerable among us lack IDs? Do they want these people to become victims of identity theft or vote fraud?

Given the spirit-crushing effects of dependency, why support policies ensuring that more people are trapped into taking handouts?

Given the well-documented social and health risks of homosexuality, why promote that behavior, especially to children? Why, without evidence, claim there’s no hope for change?

Crime is rampant in jurisdictions with strict gun laws. Why make law-abiding citizens even more vulnerable to criminals?

Countries without America’s rich deposits of fossil fuels are mired in poverty. Why destroy hope for alleviating misery in the Third World?

Millions of Americans are out of work. Why import millions of illegal aliens to flood the job market? Do you hate your unemployed neighbor?

When confronted with the politics of personal destruction, the unfairly accused need to resist going into a defensive crouch.

Mr. DeLay never did. Now he’s been exonerated. This should embolden all who are falsely accused.

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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