One of the great ironies of the past decade and a half is that the term "the politics of personal destruction" has come to be associated with what Republicans did to President Bill Clinton.
Republicans have been known to go over the top now and then. But it is Democrats who have trademarked the personal attack, the attribution of base motives and the assassination of character as their m.o.
Some Republicans have recently demonstrated a healthy intolerance for business as usual. Take the case of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy versus Richard V. Cheney. After accusing Vice President Cheney of personal corruption (concerning Halliburton), Leahy offered a fulsome greeting to Cheney when the two came face to face at a Senate photo shoot.
This is fairly classic Democrat behavior, as well. Call someone every name in the book in public, but behave in private as if it's all a big game. When Robert Bork was doing his courtesy calls on senators after being nominated to the Supreme Court, he visited the senior senator from Massachusetts. Kennedy, who had just declared "Robert Bork's America" to be a place where citizens feared "the midnight knock on the door" and blacks were forced to eat "at segregated lunch counters," mumbled congratulations to Bork on his nomination and added that his comments were "nothing personal." You're a fascist and a racist -- but nothing personal.
This time, Cheney was having none of it. When Leahy attempted the old hail-fellow-well-met routine, Cheney delivered an Anglo-Saxon rebuke.
But the accusation remains the preferred style of political combat for Democrats. There are no honest disagreements, no sincere policy differences. If you oppose the Democrats, you are evil, or racist, or insensitive, or (the most common smear) a tool of big business. A recent inductee into the falsely accused Hall of Fame is my friend Daniel Troy, currently serving as general counsel at the Food and Drug Administration.
Troy has been attacked in U.S. News and World Report, the Denver Post and the Boston Globe. He is being described as "too close to those he regulates" because he played a minor role in a case involving Pfizer Pharmaceuticals when he was in private practice. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., devotes almost his entire website to Troy-bashing. "FDA's Chief Counsel Serves Industry, Not Public" blares one press release. Hinchey has taken matters beyond public relations. He has proposed to cut funding for the general counsel's office in order to reign in this runaway big business attack dog.