Dean Barnett

Allah yesterday uncomfortably alluded to an Ann Coulter theory that the left was devising a strategy where it would rely solely on spokespeople that you couldn’t argue with. While I, too, deplore Ann’s bomb throwing, when she’s right, she’s right. The left’s strategy is to have absolute moral authority figures like the Jersey Girls or Cindy Sheehan carry its message. The messengers would also necessarily be victims so if you got down ‘n’ dirty with them, you would automatically qualify as a cretin.

I learned this firsthand over the past couple of days when I questioned Michael J. Fox’s actions during this campaign season. My inbox filled with vituperative semi-literate screeds, while on the internet blogging imbeciles inferred from my post that I was “mad that I can’t attack handicapped people.”

Much as Glenn Greenwald heaves one of his virtual despairing sighs when neither he nor any of his alter egos can achieve a productive dialogue with his right wing critics, I now face the temptation to walk away from this matter. Alas, sadly, there is more to say. Markos Moulitsas has coined the Michael J. Fox offensive the real October surprise. Thus, it must be dealt with.

First, given the ridiculous protocols of our day, I feel it’s necessary to establish the fact that my victim bona fides compare favorably to Fox’s. For those of you new to the site, I have Cystic Fibrosis. CF is a genetic disease, so I’ve had it all my life. It is no exaggeration to say that while Fox was gamboling around the set of Family Ties in the mid-1980’s, I was fighting for my life. Since then, my health has ranged from shockingly good for a CF patient to rather precarious.

I say this not to elicit anyone’s sympathy. Quite the contrary, I have willingly entered the rough and tumble of politics via the blogosphere expecting no quarter. Nor have I offered any. If I have a code, that’s it.

Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, often operate as if guided by the exact opposite principle. They think a person’s victim status means that he must necessarily be treated with kid gloves. Max Cleland has become a voice of perpetual outrage since he was ousted from the Senate in 2002. The Democrats bring him out every time they wish to create a visual representation of how mean Republicans are. Cleland’s triple amputee status serves as an implicit and often explicit indictment of Republican politics – so venal are Republicans, Cleland’s very presence seems to scream, they attacked this heroic man.

But I’m here to tell you that you’re not a hero just because you get sick or have bad luck. You’re not even special. Before we get off this planet, we’ll all have serious illness or serious bad luck, likely both. Sorry to say, the world isn’t full of 6 billion heroes.

I’ve sat in lung transplant support groups and seen people show incredible courage and stoicism. I’ve also seen people carry on endlessly, lost in their own self-pity, angry at the world and doing everything possible to make their loved ones miserable. I can tell you from personal experience, you’d have to have a heart of stone to not feel for all these people. But they’re not all heroes. No way.

Michael J. Fox has willingly entered the political fray several times over the past decade. I’ve learned that a lot of people think that questioning him, his motives or his wisdom is a third rail of polite conversation. It isn’t, or at least it shouldn’t be.

The ad that premiered yesterday in support of Claire McCaskill was grossly misleading. It didn’t mention any of the specifics where Talent differed with Fox, surely because McCaskill knew that on those areas of difference, Talent is much more closely aligned with Mizz-o-rah voters than Fox is. What’s more, the areas of difference will be settled by a referendum question in the Show Me state, so the differences between the Senate candidates are moot.

Today Fox debuted an ad on behalf of Maryland Senate candidate Ben Cardin. The scene was the same as the McCaskill ad – an obviously unwell Fox looking into the camera and beseeching viewers to support Ben Cardin.

In both ads, Fox’s commentary raises the issue of what lines of research have been promising and what lines haven’t. Oddly, both ads avoid the mention of embryonic stem cell research, but that must be what Fox was talking about. I haven’t heard a single politician, either Republican or Democrat, oppose adult stem cell research or any other kind of stem cell research except embryonic stem cell research.

The first thing of note about embryonic stem cell research is that to date it has been a dead end. Again, regarding what kind of funding embryonic stem cell research should get, I can call on some personal expertise. The medical research community has scarce dollars. Those dollars get funneled into the most promising areas. Unless the government is doing the spending, they are not frittered away on vanity projects or to make political statements. Based on embryonic stem cell research’s results to date – none – it is not a logical recipient for scarce research dollars.

And then of course there is the moral issue. Fox’s plea is presumably supposed to preempt any debate on that matter. His presence seems to defy any political antagonists to defend a fetus and deny him hope.

It doesn’t work that way, or at least it shouldn’t. Michael J. Fox has no particular monopoly on morality. Quite the contrary, his past admission that he appeared before a Senate subcommittee without having used his medication suggests an unbecoming moral flexibility. This is brutally manipulative behavior, and I’ve seen many ill people use similar means to get what they want. Such conduct is contemptible.

Here’s the part that Michael J. Fox and his abettors in the Democratic Party don’t get. A presence like Fox’s or Cleland’s can end arguments, but they don’t win them. People may be reluctant to disagree with them publicly because of the pity factor that Fox and Cleland so assiduously court, but just because people who disagree with them are cowed into silence doesn’t mean they rest in agreement.

When all was said and done, Max Cleland lost his reelection campaign in 2002. That’s a fact the 2006 Democratic Party would do well to remember.

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Dean Barnett

Dean Barnett blogs almost daily at He has also been a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard's online edition, The Daily Standard. He can be reached for comment at

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