A candidate’s suicide and a plea for cleaner politics

    We end the week with a funeral eulogy for a candidate who killed himself.

    Tom Schweich aspired to be governor of Missouri. He served as chief of staff to three U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations. He led the State Department’s war on narcotics; in that post, he was given the rank of ambassador by President Bush. He went home to Missouri in 2010 and was elected state auditor; last year, he was re-elected without opposition. He was lauded as a “brilliant” and “devoted” guy whose record was “unblemished.” But eight days ago, he committed suicide.

    Some Missourians say that Schweich was too sensitive and high strung for today’s ugly political climate. His defenders, like former Missouri Republican Sen. John Danforth, fault the climate for driving good people away from politics – with Schweich as a notably tragic example. Because even though the ’16 GOP gubernatorial primary was still a long way off, the ugly whisperings had already begun. In Missouri Republican circles, the rumor was going around that Schweich was a Jew.

    It just so happens that Schweich was Episcopalian; however, a Jewish grandfather had schooled him to hate anti-Semitism. So he was very agitated about the pejorative rumor. Apparently, Missouri GOP chairman John Hancock was spreading the rumor, (mis-)informing rural Republicans that Schweich was Jewish.

    There are very few Jews in rural Missouri; however, there are lots of conservative GOP primary voters in rural Missouri. As Missouri political analyst Ken Warren said this week, “All things being equal, if you’re running statewide, it would be better to be non-Jewish. It’s certainly not going to be a help.” Especially in a rural-heavy Republican primary.

    Whispering campaign aside, Schweich was also freaked about a heavy-rotation radio ad, sponsored by some shadowy group that ironically itself Citizens for Fairness. The ad said that Schweich looked like nerdy sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show; the group vowed to “quickly squash him like the little bug that he is.”

    Remember, these are Republicans sliming other Republicans.

    After Schweich killed himself, chairman Hancock said that Schweich’s complaint about him was “demonstrably untrue.” Then he said that, yeah, he may have mentioned the Jewish thing to some people – but he didn’t mean it as anything bad. He said it was like saying “I’m Presbyterian” while somebody else is not.

    But David Steelman, a former GOP state House leader, basically told the press this week that Hancock is full of it. He cited the chairman’s background as a GOP “opposition researcher,” a trained attack dog, and said that the personal attacks on Schweich had a purpose: “The Republican establishment had no room for someone as independent as Tom Schweich. (He) could not be bought, and the Republican establishment is interested in control.”

    Steelman attended the funeral on Tuesday. He later tweeted this about the state party: “MoGOP needs to find its soul. To do requires new leadership.”

    John Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest who served three Senate terms back when Republicans were less inclined to eat their own, delivered the funeral eulogy. He was Schweich’s boss at the U.N. Over to you, sir:

    The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry. (Hancock) said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?…

    (P)olitics has gone so hideously wrong, and the death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become. I believe deep in my heart that it’s now our duty, yours and mine, to turn politics into something much better than its now so miserable state…

    Since Thursday, some good people have said, ‘Well that’s just politics.’ And Tom should have been less sensitive; he should have been tougher, and he should have been able to take it. Well, that is accepting politics in its present state and that we cannot do. It amounts to blaming the victim, and it creates a new normal, where politics is only for the tough and the crude and the calloused. Indeed, if this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it?…

    The campaign that led to the death of Tom Schweich was the low point of politics, and now it’s time to turn this around. So let’s make Tom’s death a turning point here in our state…

    We will see bullies for who they are. We will no longer let them hide behind their anonymous pseudo-committees. We will not accept their way as the way of politics. We will stand up to them and we will defeat them. This will be our memorial to Tom: that politics as it now exists must end, and we will end it. And we will get in the face of our politicians, and we will tell them that we are fed up, and that we are not going to take this anymore.

    If Tom could speak to us, I think he would say about the same thing. To borrow a familiar phrase, he would approve this message. But Tom is at peace, and it’s for us to take up the cause.

    What are the odds that Danforth’s plea will resonate? But hey, it’s the thought that counts.

    ——-

    This morning, we got a robust jobs report, “blasting past economists’ expectations.” As one financial analyst put it, “We were all on guard for signs of a February freeze-up, but this is a barn burner of a jobs report.” It’s a good thing that business-savvy Mitt Romney was elected in 2012, and restored confidence in the American economy. If we still had job-killing Obama and his job-killing Obamacare, one can only shudder at where we’d be today.

     

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

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