WHAT OTHERS SAY: Candidates' silliness insults voters right and left

Saturday, July 14, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Missourians have seen their share of nasty campaign commercials, but rarely has there been one that insults Democrats and Republicans alike, to say nothing of insulting the intelligence of viewers.

But that's what Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Brunner's "Sound Familiar?" spot does. It portrays his two rivals for the GOP nomination in the Aug. 7 primary — U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Wildwood and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman of Rolla — as big-spending, pork-barreling politicians. The photographs of Mr. Akin and Ms. Steelman then morph into photographs of President Barack Obama and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

To portray Mr. Akin and Ms. Steelman as big-spenders crosses the line from disingenuous to dishonest.

Ms. Steelman hasn't cast a legislative vote since 2004, her last year as a state senator before being elected treasurer. Mr. Brunner criticizes her for a 2002 vote to "raise the gas tax." In fact, the vote was to keep the fuel tax at 17 cents a gallon, where it had been since 1996. The measure was popular with both parties. In those halcyon days, Republicans actually believed that public investment in good roads was good for business.

As for Mr. Akin, conservative and liberal groups that rank congressional voting records agree that he is one of the two or three most conservative members of the House. Mr. Brunner criticizes him for voting four times to raise the federal debt ceiling, back in the days before the new breed of know-nothing Republicans began distorting that issue.

Debt ceiling 101: No debt was added. The money already was spent. Raising the debt ceiling merely authorizes the government to meet its obligations to credit markets, thus avoiding default and financial catastrophe.

Mr. Brunner, who lives in Frontenac, styles himself as a business expert off a career running a health and beauty products firm that his grandfather started. He was CEO of Vi-Jon Corp. in Overland until 2009. Surely he knows default is a bad thing.

To be sure, Ms. Steelman has leveled silly charges at Mr. Brunner, too. For example: His daughter once gave money to a group that supports humane treatment of farm animals. How awful. She's even snide about the fact that he comes from the St. Louis area, a crime of which Mr. Akin also is guilty.

Not to be outdone, Democrats are joining in the silliness. A "Democratic operative" this week leaked to the website the news that Vi-Jon, Mr. Brunner's firm, had been two months late paying 2006 personal property taxes on an airplane.

Apparently Democrats hope this will offset the earth-shattering campaign faux pas caused by the disclosure last year that Ms. McCaskill and her husband, developer Joe Shepard, had overlooked several years of taxes on a plane owned by one of Mr. Shepard's companies. The senator's back tax bill was more than $300,000, but she had a bigger, faster and more expensive plane than Vi-Jon's and was far later in paying the taxes.

The country has serious, perhaps intractable, problems, yet Ms. Brunner and Ms. Steelman spend their time throwing mud bombs. Shockingly, Todd ("The heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God") Akin looks like the grown-up candidate in the GOP race.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are channeling Tattoo on "Fantasy Island," pointing at each other and crying, "De plane! De plane!"

It's silly, and it's sad. Missouri deserves better.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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