Do the Personal Opinions of Total Hacks Really Matter?

I’m sure when the whole Liz Mair thing blew up, a lot of sphincters tightened around proto-presidential campaigns, since it meant a fresh round of Google searches and gossip about other staffers who might have said dumb of offensive stuff in public. And sure enough, an incident from 2012 has quickly reemerged with a new boss implicated, as explained in this report from TPM’s Daniel Strauss:

A recently hired adviser to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) campaign-in-waiting made waves in the 2012 presidential race when he suggested it isn’t God’s will to have a female president.

On Wednesday, Perry’s political action committee, RickPAC, announced that Jamie Johnson had joined as senior director. According to The Des Moines Register, Johnson will be working for RickPAC in Iowa and other early Republican primary states.

Johnson, an ordained minister, is a former radio broadcaster who previously served as the director of outreach for Iowa Right to Life and the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition.

In 2012, he served as Iowa coalitions director for former Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-PA) presidential campaign. During that campaign cycle, The Des Moines Register reported an email Johnson sent to a friend in which he said that children’s lives would be in danger if the country elected a female president.

“The question then comes, ‘Is it God’s highest desire, that is, his biblically expressed will,…to have a woman rule the institutions of the family, the church, and the state?” Johnson wrote in the email.

Seems the campaign of Michele Bachmann both appropriately and ironically took umbrage at this sentiment, but Johnson survived. It’s not so clear he’ll dodge the same bullet twice.

I’m guessing by the end of the weekend every announced staffer for every unannounced presidential candidate will have had her or his public utterances thoroughly reviewed to reveal anything that might offend anyone within the Republican Party or the conservative movement. But much as non-Republicans may enjoy the spectacle, it is important eventually to ask how much sense any of this makes.

Liz Mair herself is arguing that having campaign staffers who aren’t on the same page as the Future Leader of America on every issue is a good exercise in coalition-building. But I’d ask a more basic question: knowing what we do about the iron message discipline of modern political campaigns and the endless willingness of people to completely abandon their own point of view for the sake of either The Larger Cause or a paycheck, does it matter at all what they said yesterday or will say tomorrow? We’re talking about professional hacks, people, and I use that in more the technical than the moral sense. Liz Mair was hired to be the RCA Dog, with Her Master’s Voice drowning out all other sounds. What if she really considers Iowans hopeless yahoos and whores? That she has subjected her Iowa-hating, ho-hating opinions to those of Scott Walker may say a lot about her, but not necessarily anything about Scott Walker.

I guess part of the reason I feel this way as that I have spent a decent part of my adult life working for, and sometimes speaking or writing for, people with whom I did not agree in significant particulars. Hell, one boss, Sam Nunn, had a deliberate policy of hiring people more liberal than he was in order to test his own opinions. At the DLC, my dovish tendencies were well enough known that colleagues just laughed when I answered a water cooler question about whether I favored NATO expansion by saying “what makes you think I favor NATO?” Did that make me a big ol’ ho? I don’t think so, though we all have to go through our own moral calculation about who we work for, so long as we have any choice at all (most people don’t, really). But had anyone gotten wind of my hostility to NATO back then and tried to make an issue of it with whoever the chairman of the DLC happened to be at the time, it would have been grossly unfair, not to mention ridiculous. But that’s the territory we are now entering, to everybody’s peril.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.