Quick attack of Sen. Graham’s arrest is a political mistake

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 | 7:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For reasons of irreconcilable differences in political, fiscal and economic philosophies, I cannot imagine any scenario in which I would vote for Chuck Graham, the current 19th District State Senator. Nevertheless, the hysterical hyperbole over his recent alcohol-related auto accident is not only unseemly and silly, but is also laced with hypocrisy, promising to backfire against those employing it as an election campaign tactic.

This in no way excuses Senator Graham’s irresponsible conduct — the operation of a motor vehicle after consuming alcoholic beverages or narcotics and putting other drivers, passengers and pedestrians at risk of life and limb. The very act of driving while impaired demonstrates a lack of maturity, common sense and concern for the safety of others and is particularly inappropriate for an elected official.

But, for Mr. Paul Sloca and other “spokesmen” for the Missouri Republican Party to call for the Senator’s immediate resignation was hardly a brilliant act of political strategy in that it ignored similar and fairly recent lapses in judgment by the home team. More importantly, however, for either side to advocate a “zero defects” behavior policy defies the frailties of merely being human — it is beyond hypocrisy to assume that one political party owns a monopoly in the irresponsible use of alcohol.

While I am sympathetic to the political gamesmanship and the “gotcha” mentality that causes all political parties to be ever alert to the missteps and misstatements of the others, I am almost certain that most of us would hope the hostilities be issue-based rather than personal. The orchestration of a circus atmosphere featuring cheerleaders from both factions over a single, albeit serious, error in judgment is hardly an encouraging sign of adult behavior.

To those of you who believe I am unduly critical of GOP spokespersons, I can assure you that it is merely because this is the most recent example of minutia trumping the actually important. Examples of Mr. Jack Cardetti and lesser spokespersons for the Democratic Party in opening mouth before engaging brain abound, particularly in the areas of taxation and voter identification.

Employing the irrelevant to gain political advantage at the expense of an opponent often stretches or even tramples integrity and common decency in the campaign process. For example, an election ploy involving charges of driving while impaired nearly altered the outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election. During the weekend before Election Day, the Democratic National Committee surfaced a DUI incident involving George Bush some 20 years earlier. This reporting was legal, but irrelevant and unethical.

In the 1988 election campaign, Gov. Dukakis was likewise victimized by an incident which had no relevance to his ability to govern: that photograph of the helmet-clad candidate in a tank. While a self-inflicted wound, the image of Dukakis the warrior was sufficiently ludicrous to doom him as a serious candidate as it became a signature tool in the campaign against him.

Fair or not, these tactics are deeply ingrained in every political party and often referred to as “politics of personal destruction.” And, inasmuch as there is little or no indication that the parties will police themselves, it behooves us as voters to exercise both vigilance and common sense to sort the essential from the inane.

As for Senator Graham, it would appear that the public embarrassment and loss of driving privileges, coupled with the anguish over what might have been had the accident caused serious injury or fatalities, should be sufficient for now. Let us hope he has learned from it, as any recurrence of this behavior must result in removal from office, either by resignation or by the legislature.

To the unforgiving who do not agree, that is your right, but may I remind you that bit for the grace of blind, dumb luck, there go many of us.

Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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