Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson thought it would be cute last night to have his senior producer “perform a dramatic reading of the most titillating moments” from one of the pulpy romance novels Georgia politician Stacey Abrams wrote before she started running for office. The excerpt was objectively awful, but that’s irrelevant: Carlson’s stunt was an unethical cheap shot, and the equivalent of an ad hominem attack. Abrams’ bad prose tell us nothing about the validity of her political positions, and bringing them into the discussion is designed to mislead.
I hate this tactic, and I have condemned it before regardless of who was the target and who was the slime artist. Minnesota Republicans tried to discredit Al Franken when he was first running for U.S. Senate by digging up a sexually-provocative humorous piece he had written for “Playboy”—you know, the epitome of evil—eight years before when he was a full-time comedy writer. “When Republicans do things like this,” I wrote on the old Ethics Scoreboard, “they insult voters by assuming that they are narrow-minded and illiterate, celebrate humorlessness, and willfully blur the difference between entertainment and public policy.”
In the process of losing his seat, GOP Virginia Senator George Allen tried to discredit his ultimately-victorious opponent Jim Webb by pointing out using steamy sex scenes from Webb’s justly acclaimed novels. I wrote, “Republicans would have screamed to high heaven in 1980 if President Jimmy Carter’s campaign had used film clips of Ronald Reagan playing a vicious villain and slapping Angie Dickinson around in “The Killers,” and justifiably so.”
I’m particularly sensitive to this unethical tactic, in part because I have led a double life as an artist–writer, performer, producer and director— since high school. My artistic endeavors say nothing at all about my private character or political beliefs; the goal as an artist is to create art that enlightens, challenges, amuses and entertains. I directed an award winning production of “The Cradle Will Rock,” which is socialist agitprop. I directed a revival of the original stage adaptaion of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” in which the word “nigger” is spoken dozens of times. I adapted, wrote and directed low-brow burlesque routines of dubious taste for a revival of “Hellzapoppin!” and satirized such politically incorrect topics as the attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan, Nixon’s funeral, the Rodney King beating and the Bobbitt penis-severing scandal (Look it up, if you’ve forgotten) in a long-running D.C. comedy review. None of that had or has any relevance to my credibility as a lawyer and ethicist.
Stacey Abrams has done and said so many unethical things in her current incarnation as a race-baiting hypocrite that neither Carlson nor anyone else is justified in digging in her literary trunk to discredit her. The problem with Abrams isn’t that she is a lousy novelist. She could be a lousy novelist and still be a competent and trustworthy politician. Her problem is that she’s neither.