March 01, 2004
During the weeks before the Hull order of protection was released, I was pretty adamant about staying away from probes into his or any other candidate's personal life. My reasoning was that tolerance of these types of investigations doesn't have any logical end and they necessarily lead to smear politics. I still believe that, but this order of protection is more than just a personal matter (like cheating on your wife in your oval-shaped office). Domestic abuse is a serious matter and voters should know if a candidate has a history of it. Even though the reports paint a pretty horrible portrait of Hull, I think that if he was upfront about this early on voters could have looked past it because it appears to be an isolated incident. As Archpundit suggests, this was a terrible misplay by the Hull campaign. If he suffers in the polls because of this, it will have been a self-inflicted injury.
Some will say that this is a nasty takedown of Hull, but I think everyone will agree that this type of past needs to become known to the electorate. Over at Howtown, there are a lot of veiled references to serious character flaws in Obama’s otherwise pristine image. If Howtown is just suggesting that Obama might actually be a jerk if you get to know him or that he’s a difficult guy to work with on a regular basis, I don’t see how that would matter (even if it were true). I’m not looking for a friend in my Senator, just someone who will be an effective legislator who represents my interests. So that type of character flaw is I think irrelevant. If there’s more to Obama’s character that is relevant to the race, i.e., something illegal like domestic abuse, come out with it. Otherwise look for friends on friendster, not in government.
The larger point that this incident underscores is that Hull is running for a national office with no governmental experience. Some people think that that is a plus and praise his record in business as evidence of his abilities. But even though most would applaud his success in the private sector (I do), I think that they would also agree that government and business are quite different fields and that success in one doesn't necessarily lead to success in the other. In response to this charge of lack of governmental experience, Hull has produced an impressive amount of policy papers to prove his ability as a legislator. But these can’t be entirely trusted to demonstrate Hull’s potential, because anyone with enough money could pay a team of advisors to draft a library of policy positions.
So without actual proof of his legislative potential, the voters turn to other methods to assess Mr. Hull.
Debates: He has stunk in those so far, which doesn't instill much hope in me that he will be very effective on the Senate floor. OK, he isn’t a politician so perhaps it’s unfair to judge him on debates. We'll have to scratch debates as a criterion to judge this candidate and move on to the next area.
Endorsements: He doesn’t have a whole lot, which may be a good thing to bolster his independent message. But some of those he does have are from less than independent elements of Illinois politics (see Dick Mell). So he’s not dazzling anyone with his endorsements. Next criterion.
Character: Oh boy. What do we know about this guy? “I hear he’s a nice guy to his workers and is a chum to drink beer with, but....umm.....I also heard that he may have physically and verbally threatened his ex-wife and more or less acted like a nut.” Now, I think voters know that candidates are human and allow them to have tainted pasts, but first of all this didn't occur so long ago and secondly it's not innocent drug use or some other foible. It’s an allegation of domestic abuse. That's a serious thing for a lot of voters, especially when it concerns a candidate who claims to be the biggest backer of women's issues. Given that it’s not entirely clear that he did what the report says (maybe the ex-wife cooked up the story to gain leverage for the divorce settlement) it may not be fair that this could sink Hull. [But then again he hasn't come out and outright denied some of the more shocking aspects of the reports so I'm not sure if there's much doubt here.]
In any case, for the voters trying to familiarize themselves with Hull this is what they are left with. What else can they judge this candidate on? He doesn't have a stellar legislative record at the state or municipal level to dilute these character flaws, so sadly for him this is his identity for the next few crucial weeks.
My advice to Hull is that he should run for a statewide or municipal office and show us what he can do in government. I bet he would do well and in six years maybe he will be ready to run for U.S. Senate. Until then, despite his populace message of breaking in as an outsider, he's just a guy with lots of money and a lot of rhetoric to the electorate. As much as voters don't like insiders dominating the political system, they also don't like charlatans with a fistful of dollars who try to bypass the hurdles that allow voters to properly assess a candidate. Be my State Rep for a few years Mr. Hull and then I'll determine whether I trust your promises.