Nuance Not a Big Part of Campaign Rhetoric

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Political campaigns don’t do nuance.

Take, for example, a story in the San Jose Mercury-News this weekend that questioned claims Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has been making at nearly every stop during his run for governor.

The story noted that nearly half the $1.81 billion in insurance rate cuts Poizner touts on the campaign trail resulted from regulations written by his predecessor, Democrat John Garamendi. It also reported that a third of the budget cuts he talks about were imposed by the governor and the Legislature because of the state’s budget woes.

Newspapers being newspapers, with all that old-school MSM commitment to fairness, balance and the like, the story also reported that Poizner actually had to approve Garamendi’s regulations before they took effect and repeated the commissioner’s argument that cuts are cuts, regardless of how they come about.

And campaigns being campaigns, gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman’s team felt free to ignore all that extraneous balance stuff and just stick with the straight attack on her GOP rival.

“Newspapers say Poizner’s claims about record ‘don’t add up,’” blared a release from Whitman’s campaign Monday. “Poizner’s Claims On The Stump About Cutting Budget and Employees ‘Don’t Add Up As Billed.’”

And just to make sure no one missed the point, Whitman’s people reached out to an Orange County blog for the money quote: “GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner caught lying!”

Then Tucker Bounds, Whitman’s campaign spokesman, pushed the knife in a little deeper by complaining that “a day after news reports discredited his claims, Commission Poizner is still misrepresenting his record.”

Which isn’t surprising, since Poizner made it clear in the story that he didn’t believe his claims had been discredited at all.

There’s nothing new or particularly nefarious going on here, just standard hardball campaign tactics. While campaigns generally make an effort to tell the truth, there’s no rule that they tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The Mercury-News story dug into Poizner’s campaign narrative and raised some important questions about the stories he’s telling on the stump. That’s always going to be –and always should be – a major campaign issue, since it cuts to the heart of how trustworthy a candidate will be if elected. And if one or another of Poizner’s opponents wants to cherry-pick the most damning quotes and turn them into a hit piece, hey, that’s politics.

But campaign rhetoric, hyper-partisan web sites and flame-throwing bloggers aside, there still are two sides to every story, which is something for voters to remember once those 30-second TV spots start filling the airwaves.

Of course, which side you believe is always up to you.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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