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High Stakes & Low Comedy

The Fortnightly Rant for August 27, 2010, from The New Hampshire Gazette, Volume 254, No. 24, posted on Saturday, January 15, 2011.

The United States Senate has often been called “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” most often by U.S. Senators. The public at large seems to have a somewhat less exalted view of that chamber. But whatever we lowly peons may think of it, there can be no denying that the Senate is terribly important and enormously powerful.

Morbid curiosity has prompted us to quantify that power. Considering that it takes just forty Senators to stop a nation of 306 million people dead in its tracks, we calculate that a single Senator is mightier than 7,463,414 mere citizens.

And so we as a nation find ourselves in a position where the wisdom of The Founding Fathers,© as expressed in Article One of The Constitution,® coupled with the Barney Fife-like timidity of present-day Democratic Party leaders, make the outcome of this fall’s New Hampshire Senatorial election a matter of the utmost national and international importance. Thank God this dismal situation contains an abundance of comic relief.

This month New Hampshire residents who are so inclined have been able to pick up a copies of Manchester’s Union Leader — the only newspaper in the country to rival The Wall Street Journal in its veneration of capitalism — and find in it articles lambasting a Republican capitalist, Bill Binnie.

That in itself is a little bit odd, but the element of the story that left us wishing there’d been a microphone buried in Bill Loeb’s coffin was one of the paper’s sources. The Union Leader cited a book titled The Children of NAFTA, whose author, David Bacon, is a former member of the Communist Party U.S.A. His work is more frequently found in left-leaning publications such as The Nation, The Progressive, and the independent socialist magazine Monthly Review.

What’s funny about this is that fifty-five years ago William Loeb was regularly writing front page editorials in the Union Leader howling for the scalp of Paul Sweezy, a Marxist, because he had spoken before a class at the University of New Hampshire. At the time, Sweezy was the co-editor of the Monthly Review.

The Union Leader has been digging into Binnie’s career as a businessman and finding it wanting. John DiStaso wrote on August 15th that “critics of [Binnie’s] record in the plastics industry say the wealthy U.S. Senate candidate had a long list of labor, safety and environmental protection issues.” Relish that for a moment, Dear Reader, you may not get the chance again: the Union Leader is pretending to care about labor, workplace safety, and the environment.

The heart of the hit piece was a charge that Binnie had exported hundreds of jobs from California to Mexico. Binnie, quite rightly, took the story as a direct attack. He paid for a full-page newspaper ad flatly denying that he had exported jobs — an assertion that his own company’s SEC filings seem to contradict. Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid returned the favor by publishing an editorial whose overall tone was well expressed in the first sentence: “Bill Binnie is a bully with a big bag of money.”

When Binnie is not too busy defending himself against the state’s most powerful newspaper, he is attacking the perceived front-runner for the Republican Senate nomination, former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. In this, the Rye businessman has what the military would call a “target-rich environment.”

Kelly Ayotte owes her political career to Governor Craig Benson, whose lone term in office was so scandal-ridden that the GOP has consigned it to the Memory Hole. Benson made Ayotte a Deputy Attorney General. Ayotte’s qualifications, like those of many other Benson appointees, were mostly in his head.

In June of 2004 the Department of Health and Human Services forwarded a bizarre allegation to the Attorney General’s office: the Attorney General himself, Peter Heed, was said to have “behaved inappropriately” during a state-sponsored conference on preventing sexual and domestic abuse. Obviously Heed’s office could not investigate the matter, so Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway was asked to look into it.

Hathaway submitted a 25-page report in August of 2004. By that time Heed had resigned. Ultimately, though, he was cleared — at least to the extent that he could be, after a severely compromised investigation.

In dry legalese, the report recounts a futile seventeen-day effort to get a straight answer out of either Governor Benson or Safety Commissioner Dick Flynn. It ended with a series of questions. Had Flynn asked or encouraged Heed to resign? Had Flynn provided confidential information to Benson? To Heed? To the Executive Council?

Hathaway wrote, “The implications have far-reaching ramifications for the criminal justice system and public confidence in that system and the institutions of government. Addressing the questions and concerns outlined above is critical to maintaining the integrity of the criminal process which protects and serves us all.

“General Ayotte,” Hathaway continued — for by then she had assumed Heed’s former position — “I commend this report to you with full confidence that you will take whatever actions are appropriate to address the concerns and questions presented.”

Hathaway’s confidence in Ayotte appears to have been misplaced. The new Attorney General made no visible effort to investigate what a cynic might regard as a conspiracy on the part of Benson and Flynn to oust Heed so Ayotte might be appointed in his place.

Binnie probably has better sense than to go after Ayotte on the Heed affair, though. It’s ancient history, and reminding voters of the Benson regime now would turn all the state’s Republicans against Binnie. But that’s all right — he can always bring up Ayotte’s failure to honor her promise to Governor Lynch that she would finish out her term, or harp on her failure to prosecute the Financial Resources Management Ponzi scheme, or any number of other failures.

The next few weeks promise to be vastly entertaining. The most exciting prospect on the horizon may be watching state GOP Chairman John H. “Papa” Sununu’s reaction as these rampant violations of Saint Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment not to “speak ill of any fellow Republican” continue piling up.

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