Friday, July 7, 2017


Progressives have been loud and clear in talking about Donald Trump’s competence and character—fair enough: competence and character count for a lot, if not everything, in assessing a political person.  But, when I analyzed the competence (proven) and the character (dubious) of Craig Fenske, a candidate for Supervisor of the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District, in a widely circulated email, local Progressives refused to allow the same standard to be applied to one of their own.  Some responded with name-calling or trumped-up charges.  Las Cruces City Councilor Gil Sorg replied that I am a “jerk,” and Dael Goodman alleged that I had sent her “abusive emails.”  Others will have to decide whether I am a jerk, but I can say that one email nine months earlier telling Dael “no” to future emails from her is neither plural nor abusive.

So I know whereof State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn speaks when he writes a guest column “Despite political affiliation, human decency must prevail” (Bulletin, June 23).  I agree that we must be honest and decent in communications and not dehumanize others, whatever the differences of opinion.  But I could not square his preaching with his practice.  His column reminded me of an Ambrose Bierce definition of a Christian: “One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.”

Dunn opens by mentioning the shooting of a Republican congressman at a baseball practice, continues by detailing some local episodes of shots fired through windshields and slashed tires, and reflects on their possible cause in “the overheated and dishonest rhetoric coming from the extreme progressive left toward conservative public officials.”  With no relevant facts, just paranoic imaginings, Dunn jumps to a political accusation; he ignores the fact that vehicle vandalism without political motive is a common occurrence in the area.  (With no relevant facts, just a perverse imagination, I might counter that the overheated and dishonest rhetoric coming from the extreme conservative right might have prompted an extreme conservative to such damage in order to blame those on the “extreme progressive left.”)  Dunn’s leap to a one-sided conclusion strikes me as neither honest nor decent.  And, as New Mexicans know, it was one of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Gifford’s extreme conservative constituents who shot, wounded, and mentally maimed her for life—nothing so minor as windshield damage or a slashed tire.

Balance alone—would it not be honest and decent?—might have suggested to Dunn that extremists exist at both ends of the political spectrum.  Honesty and decency might have suggested that extremists should not be taken as representative of either side of the political spectrum; “extremists” are the new straw men of political rhetoric.  But only the “some who don’t respect the need for truthful debate and instead choose to target conservatives” get a mention—the “some” being those who are not “conservatives.”  Yet Dunn has no idea about “truthful debate” since, before it begins, he colors those who disagree with him as “extremists” and claims that “vitriol coming from the extremists toward conservatives” is affecting his decision to run for office.  Although he gives no evidence of extremist vitriol toward other conservatives or him, his words are evidence of his vitriol toward non-conservative opponents.

Dunn complains that Senator Heinrich, by endorsing Dunn’s rival, endorsed what he represents as his rival’s unsavory views on the standoff in Oregon at a federal wildlife refuge.  Dunn claims that his opponent characterized “a group of peacefully protesting ranchers in Oregon” as “Taliban-style terrorists and advocated the federal government taking deadly force against them with no due process.”  Dunn’s complaint is neither honest nor decent.

First, Dunn grossly misrepresents the group of ranchers and likely just as grossly misrepresents his rival’s words.  The group of ranchers in Oregon was not a group of Oregon ranchers or even of local residents.  They were not “peacefully protesting”; they were armed; they evicted employees from their wildlife refuge offices at gunpoint; they threated armed resistance if federal officers tried to arrest them; and one of them was shot and killed when he attempted to draw his weapon on federal officers.  By radically misrepresenting the facts about this episode of a violent, vigilante effort to seize public lands reveals values unworthy of a public servant and antithetical to the public interest.

Second, given Dunn’s misrepresentation of the physical facts of the episode, his claim that his rival urged deadly force and the denial of due process is suspect as improbable.  Dunn does not quote his rival’s words.  So we do not know what his rival’s words or views on this episode are, but they are not likely what Dunn claims them to be.  Dunn substitutes his words instead—a ploy which does not suggest honesty or decency.

Finally, Dunn drags Heinrich into his discussion in order to smear the Senator by association and an unsupported allegation that the senator, whom Dunn never quotes, uses “overheated rhetoric.”  Odds are, Heinrich had many reasons to endorse Dunn’s rival, and endorsing him does not mean endorsing every one of his views, even if, as is very doubtful, he knew them all and one or two were what Dunn says that they are.  Dunn’s gratuitous smear is more of what is neither honest nor decent about his rhetoric.

In this context, Dunn’s concluding “promise to stand up for honest debate” and his challenge to voters to support candidates and officials who “stick to the truth, [and] have honest discussions” demonstrate the hypocrisy of a candidate pseudo-heroically pretending to honesty and decency.  Dunn may know what they are, but he does not act as if he does by practicing what he preaches.  We do not need another partisan hypocrite of poisoned rhetoric like him in public office.  One and done is enough of Dunn.

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