October 4, 2005

The Attack Ad on Laffey: Just Plain Lame, Stupid & Condescending

This ProJo article and Marc's and Andrew's earlier postings (here, here, here) talk about the attack ad on U.S. Senate candidate Steve Laffey by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Laffey's response.

Here is an excerpt about the ad from the ProJo article:

Yesterday the exchange escalated with the GOP committee's broadcast of the 30-second attack on Laffey. As an announcer asks, "Have you seen this guy Steve Laffey?" the ad shows an image from Laffey's own kickoff ad of last month. The voice says that the "same Steve Laffey" who criticized oil companies once "ran a company selling oil industry stocks on Wall Street. Profiting from offshore oil drilling. The oil companies made a fortune. Steve Laffey made a fortune."

As the spot returns to the clip of Laffey pledging to "stand up to special interests," a graphic technique drips "oil" over the screen, including Laffey's image. The announcer concludes, "Slick. Steve Laffey. Laughing all the way to the bank."

Well the NRSC must think that we Rhode Islanders are all a bunch of stupid yahoos to run such a lame and condescending ad.

Steve Laffey previously was President of Morgan Keegan. As a securities firm, Morgan Keegan offered investment banking services for many segments of the American economy - including the energy industry. Which is why the following was said:

Laffey's spokeswoman, Robin Muksian-Schutt, said it's true that his company worked on stocks from the oil industry -- and many other industries as well.

But she said Laffey's company worked on transactions from many industries -- not just oil. "That was his job," she said.

To drill down on the sheer stupidity of the ad's argument, consider these questions: Is the NRSC saying it doesn't accept the important market-making role of investment banking firms in the American economy? Do they want to return us to the days when investment deals had limited distribution and were typically only offered to wealthy people with the right personal connections? Why is the NRSC ridiculing the important role banks play in allocating investment capital that creates jobs in all segments of the American economy and for Americans at all economic levels?

And in response to all this, Senator Chafee said:

Chafee said in an interview yesterday that, although he had nothing to do with it, the ad aired by Dole's committee is a "legitimate" jab at Laffey's "hypocrisy."

So we have a lame, stupid and condescending attack ad that holds no substantive meaning to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the banking industry and/or an appreciation for the role investment banking firms play in allocating capital across a free-enterprise capitalist economy. And we have a Senator who wants to convince us that lame, stupid commentaries should be taken seriously by his constituents. How condescending.

Another example of how Senator Chafee is so impressive.

And we don't need a bunch of outsiders talking down to the people of Rhode Island.

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Can't believe (well yeah I can) so many of you completely miss (or don't want to see) the VERY effective point the NRSC ad was making.
Laffey's first big ad campaign, out awfully early since the election is a year away, is very negative since it attacks both political parties and targets certain industries.
But Laffey's big pontificating and finger pointing bluster loses it's edge when Laffey's own company (therefore Laffey himself) made lots of money dealing with the very industry he's now demonizing because he's running for the Senate.
That ad was short, sweet and to the point and I don't believe Linc Chafee's name is ever mentioned even once.
It was purely a slapdown of Laffey and a very effective one.
Laffey comes across as just another changing his stripes politician who say anything to get elected.
People DON'T like that!!

Posted by: Tim at October 4, 2005 7:24 PM


Your argument fails to persuade because - among other things - you begin it with the "can't believe so many of you..." comment that implies some of us are marching forward in some mindless drone-like fashion. You obviously are not paying close enough attention to some of the ongoing arguments on this blogsite.

First, the content of the RSNC ad was ridiculous to anyone with one iota of knowledge about the economics of a banking firm. The ad will only possibly be effective with people who are ignorant of the world of finance. Now, if you want to defend ads that attempt to play off people's lack of information and ignorance...it certainly is your right. But don't ever confuse that kind of ad with contributing to an informed public debate or being persuasive to even the modestly informed voter.

Second, some of us have previously taken Laffey to task for some of his comments, including these words: "Laffey's speech contains words that no informed or business savvy person would say - unless he was pandering for votes. That possibility is most disappointing because it suggests opportunism - not principled behavior - is driving the Laffey campaign." So much for being a one-sided mindless drone. Follow two links in that posting to further postings on the drug and energy industries and why I disagree with Laffey's comments about those industries.

Third, Senator Chafee has also been appropriately criticized for his support of the pork-laden highway bill. There was simply no justification for supporting that ridiculous bill.

The problem with the RSNC ad is that it is symptomatic of much of what is wrong in politics these days - politicians and their active supporters have trouble telling the truth.

Therefore, some of us believe that the best way to contribute positively to an informed public debate is to hold the actions and words of all politicians up for scrutiny - praising when appropriate and criticizing when appropriate.

All of us should insist on no more stupid, misleading ads - by anyone.

Rather, let's have a real and public debate about major policy issues between Laffey and Chafee - and let's see what each man stands for and how well they articulate their beliefs.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at October 4, 2005 8:30 PM

I agree there has been some soul searching on this blog regarding this populist anti-corporate streak that suddenly attends Laffey now that he is campaigning beyond Cranston.

However, Insofar as the ad is concerned, I can only say that he asked for it. Of course the ad displays no understanding of how the financial industry works, but Laffey's ads and statements display no understanding of how the oil industry [or the pharmaceutical industry] works.

Laffey started this spiral into stupidity, sadly because my experience to this point has been that although he could be sensational on issues, he could back himself up with substance. This is a marked departure from the quality of argumentation I have seen on his part over time.

Hard to say if this is campaign strategists taking the race away from him already or what. From a macro perspective it looks like he is already announcing victory in the primary and taking aim at the Democrats by co-opting their anti-corporate stance. IT is packaged in the anti-government rhetoric of objecting to subsidies - but what he is objecting to in these recent public exchanges is not subsidy (he hasn't named one regarding pharmaceutical or oil)but profit.

It is possible that this is also an appeal to Rockefellar Republicans like my dad who predominately vote Republican to provide back pressure against Democratic hegemony but who hold a Rooseveltian [pick one] view of corporate malfeasance as somehow on par with or worse than the problems of big government.

Laffey is already abandoning the theme that got him where he is - that government is the problem -- a big mistake in my opinion as it is one of few circumstances that has made Linc look more palatable in the last 6 years.

Chafee has been one of the republican headaches on drilling in ANWR and with Laffey spouting this stupid crap about the oil companies, I start to wonder what we would be getting by switching horses on these critical signature issues.

Opening ANWR would reduce oil prices thus reducing oil company profits. This isn't the reason to do it, but it is certainly a reason that the oil companies are not lobbying the ANWR issue - the only people in DC pushing it are a couple representatives of the state of Alaska, the Inupiats from Kactovic and the Teamsters. It is only mindless Democrats (And apparently Republican upstarts) who make opening new drilling out to be some kind of gift to the oil companies. If you don't like oil company profitably open more drilling and their profits will go down. (Was Steve Laffey sending them checks back when gas was selling for a dollar and heating oil for $.65 4 years ago?). If Laffey were following up his fusilades with policy ideas such as this I could credit his using the sensational interest in oil company and pharmaceutical profits as attention getters but the other shoe never drops. There is no deeper analysis available on his electlaffey.com site.

I have no problem, with (in fact it is my view) the idea that the US authorities should not be acting as Pinkertons to enforce drug company contracts with Canada. If Canada makes a deal with the drug companies not to export drugs they buy at advantageous prices, if Canada breaks the deal the drug companies should stop selling to them. It is that simple. Our government is not a party to the contract and has no business expending resources enforcing it.

Thus I support ending the ban on drug reimportation, but I don't promote or imply that it would significantly lower drug prices. Rather it would force the drug companies to face the price of capitulating to price controls in other countries. Which is to say that other counties have it too cheap, not that we have it too expensive. Economic arguments are made that selling on margin in these other countries actually modestly lowers our prices but I don't buy this as an excuse for supporting price controls, directly or indirectly. It is kind of like saying the price of having a pane of glass replaced goes down if you pay some kids to go break a lot of them.

Drug companies say quietly (loudly in the ears of politicians) that, if they the ban is rescinding, Canada will break their patents. Fine - call the canucks bluff. Ff Canada does this then there is a basis in law for prohibiting the importation of drugs, just as importation of pirated movies from China is properly a purview of law enforcement if it is still reasonable to debate the extent of resources devoted to this particular law enforcement challenge (and if as unlikely to be halted altogether as the influx of substances targeted by the war on drugs, but I digress). The point is that the Laffey campaign makes none of these arguments but targets "drug company profits". Again profits are the problem, not government (in the obvious form of socialist policies in neighboring countries as well as the the government that is here to help you making drug development into a regulatory rou-let-te. What kind of nutty blog filter are you using the won't let that word through so I had to hypenate?)

Finally, I challenge Steve Laffey (and I'll foward this to his attention) to name a specific "give away" to the oil companies over which he is upset.

Currently he lists 5 reasons the Republicans aren't getting it done. I agree generally with the first 3. He mixes a few issues in the 4th but it is more or less a restatement of his attack on oil companies. and the 5th is his attack on the pharmaceutical industry.

I can handle having intellectual differences with someone on issues, but the only things he is publicizing off his list, are numbers 4 and 5 -- the ones with which I vehemently disagree or contend that a more nuanced and specific position ought to be articulated in support of these general propositions. For a candidacy that I thought I could support unequivocally, it is a dissappointing start.


Posted by: brian at October 5, 2005 9:04 AM


You make some very good substantive policy points, and we hope to explore some of these issues in detail as the campaign progresses. But for now, I want to address your political points…

1. I don’t think that Laffey is looking beyond the primary. Because of the demographics in RI (I need to find the exact numbers, but I think there’s under 20,000 Republicans, between 200,000-300,000 Democrats, and over 300,000 independents), his appeal to independents is killing two birds with one stone. Laffey wants to appeal to independent voters to come over and vote in the Republican primary (if he’s planning to run in the primary, that is) then hold on to them in a general election.

2. At this point, I am willing to regard the lack of traditional conservative positioning as a choice of emphasis than as a rejection of conservatism. In the early stages of the campaign, Laffey has to prevent himself from being defined out of the race by people repeating over and over that he is “a conservative who can’t win in RI”.

I’m waiting to see exactly what he means by taking on big oil. I don’t see drugs from Canada ever flying in conservative circles.

Posted by: Andrew at October 5, 2005 6:05 PM

I also want to compliment Brian on his breakdown of the issues. I suppose that the only thing I would add is, that Laffey is currently in Week 4 of his campaign for Senate. His specific positions on a variety of issues will become clearer as time progresses, so don't give up quite yet.
Although I am a Laffey supporter, and I am fully knowing that Mayor Laffey is not perfect (haven't met the perfect candidate yet), I would absolutely recommend against blindly following anyone if you are uncomfortable or unclear how he might address certain issues that you deeply care about. Healthcare is a major concern of mine; so are high gas prices, and so many other things. That being said, as I have previously stated, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
Much of the problem with government in Rhode Island boils down to four things: voter apathy, outright ignorance, expecting too much from government, and more importantly, expecting too little from our leaders. Being an informed voter is not a bad thing!

Posted by: Will at October 6, 2005 2:40 AM

it is always nice to be complimented, mostly because it is nice to be read in the first place. Sorry to those who authored those brief compliments that my brief response exploded once again.

I take Andrew's point about bringing in independents into the primary, but honestly I think the primary with just the normal contingent of Republican voters is Laffey's to lose. IF you want to bring in independents while promoting lower taxes, I have no problem with that. But bringing them in with 'Viox in every pot' and 'free gas for everyone'. This is FDR redux.

If he really believes the oil and pharmaceutical industries are 5th columns in America, he is not someone I can vote for. I hope he doesn't believe that. I'm not writing him off in my own perspective or the macor one, but I neither do I think it augers well. Demagoguing against industries that have undergirded the American way of life, leisure and longevity because they have made money doing it is not a way to attract independent voters while not alienating your base.

It is one thing if your base is huge, but I argue he can ill afford to alienate many in that 20,000 who were already on his side, even if it is in the pursuit of independents.

It is not that I expect to agree with Steve all the time, or to find the perfect politician. But to come out as a virtual anti-capitalist is not some subtle difference for me.

Noticed Will is concerned about the high price of gas. I am not. Environmentalists have been wanting to tax the crap out of gas for years and I (along with many others with more economic credentials after their names) have said let the market price gas, not the government. Now the market has priced gas up. People are using less gas. That is one of the main factors in this week's price drop at the wholesale level. That is how it is supposed to work.

Sure, I think we could augment supply by opening more federal lands and cooling the price of energy a little would help the economy, but I think we can cope.

Worst part about the price of gas continues to be the extent to which we fund islamic extremism directly or indirectly through oil consumption.
All the more reason to open more drilling here, both to reduce the quantity we obtain abroad and to lower the price paid for that segment of our oil we do import.

And speaking of subsidies. The gruesome subsides are those of virtually 100% to folks who want to put up windmills. I'd be glad to have them put windmills in Nantucket sound, but ratepayers and taxpayers are being asked to pay twice the price for that energy.

Even if it were a useful public policy to encourage alternative energy rather than to let the market decide when the cost of alternatives was comparatively attractive, those subsidies should be sliding scale so they go down as the price of traditional energy sources goes up.

IF the wind mavens need a 100% subsidy to support a project when oil is $50 a barrel, then they should need no subsidy if oil is $100 a barrel.

If STeve Laffey wants to go after ridiculous energy subsidies these alternative energy payments are direct robberies of the federal and state treasuries. There are virtually no direct production subsidies for fossil fuels of which I am aware. There are some minor specific considerations to keep low producing dispersed oil wells in mature fields on line, but I defy anyone to show me some government payment or tax credit per btu that oil companies receive as remotely comparable to the direct subsidies for alternative energy.

There are things like the billions of federal dollars dumped into clean coal that green groups often point to (hypocritically since they are the ones who say coal is too dirty) but this doesn't go to oil companies, it goes to colleges and research people and demonstration projects who waste it very well. I'm all for clean coal, but it should pay it's own way.


Posted by: brian at October 6, 2005 11:03 PM