Human Events Blog

A word on Joe Soptic

After two days and counting, President Obama and his surrogates still refuse to condemn the disgusting and dishonest Priorities USA ad that blames Mitt Romney for the death of steelworker Joe Soptic’s wife.  The full timeline is now clear:

Mitt Romney left Bain Capital in 1999, years after it first invested in the company Soptic worked for.  Without that investment, the company would have folded up far earlier than it did.

Soptic’s company went bankrupt in 2001.  At that time, he was offered a buyout by Bain Capital, which he refused.

Soptic’s wife retained her own health insurance, provided by her employer, until 2003.

If you were under the impression that Soptic remained helplessly unemployed after his company went bankrupt, you are mistaken.  He got another job six months later, working as a school custodian.  He was offered the option of including his wife on his health insurance plan.  He declined, because he said it was too expensive.

Soptic’s wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, and tragically died only a few weeks later.

Most of these details have come from Soptic himself, in various interviews.  The Obama campaign has been falsely claiming they don’t know anything about his story, but in truth they have already aggressively used him in campaign ads.  He told the story of his wife’s death in a May conference call hosted by Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter… who yesterday claimed, “I don’t know the facts about when Mr. Soptic’s wife got sick, or the facts about his health insurance.”

Plenty of well-justified scorn has been heaped on the Priorities USA Super PAC, for producing this horrible ad, and President Obama, for refusing to denounce it.  But we haven’t talked much about Soptic himself yet, and we should.  His wife’s passing six years ago was a terrible tragedy, for which all due sympathy should be rendered – but that doesn’t give him an unlimited license to serve as a character assassin in dishonest political campaigns.

This is an important point, because our society has become strangely irrational about granting moral authority through tragedy.  Remember Cindy Sheehan?  Her son’s death in the War on Terror supposedly gave her “absolute moral authority” to denounce the war effort, in the memorable phrase deployed by New York Times commentator Maureen Dowd.

Of course, Sheehan’s Absolute Moral Authority card was revoked the instant she became a critic of Barack Obama… but until then, the idea was that disagreement with her about the war was fundamentally illegitimate.  Not even supporters of the war effort who had themselves lost children in battle were supposed to be able to match Sheehan’s paramount moral stature.  Reasoned debate was said to be at an end, because Sheehan’s tragic loss trumped every contrary opinion.  And until she started slamming Obama, nothing else she did, including big hugs for Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, compromised her towering “authority” at all.

In the case of Joe Soptic, there are only two possibilities to explain the advertisements he helped Obama’s campaign and its allies create: he is either mentally damaged, and incapable of remembering some of the details, or he is willingly allowing his wife to be used as a prop in a cheap political smear.  He seems capable of remembering those details when Obama campaign hacks aren’t pointing cameras at him, and he appears perfectly lucid in all of his videotaped interviews… but if he’s confused about the timeline of his wife’s death or the bankruptcy of the company he used to work for, additional shame must be heaped upon the Obama team for ruthlessly exploiting him.

And if Soptic is fully in command of his mental faculties, he deserves that shame.  What he’s done is disgusting.  No one should be shy about pointing that out.

Was Soptic misled by those Obama hacks, and manipulated into providing statements that could be misleadingly edited into noxious slanders against Romney?  Well, he’s had a couple of days to go public and denounce the way he was “abused” in the Priorities USA ad, and months to object to the way the Obama campaign used him in their initial anti-Bain ads.  He would have no difficulty whatsoever finding media outlets willing to give him a megaphone for those denunciations.

He’s one phone call away from a press conference, interview, or special guest spot on some of the most highly rated prime-time news programs.  At this point, given how queasy much of the mainstream media has become about the Priorities USA ad, Soptic would probably have no trouble setting the record straight through even CNN or MSNBC.

It wouldn’t be hard for Soptic to reclaim his personal honor. All he has to do is say, “I still have strong criticisms about the way Bain Capital handled the company I used to work for, and I will never vote for Mitt Romney, but I deeply regret accusing him of personally playing a role in the death of my wife, and I ask for his forgiveness.”  If he thinks the Obama team has manipulated him, he could say that too.

This “absolute moral authority” stuff is the very antithesis of reasoned debate.  Tragedy does not excuse people from the elementary standards of decency or logic.  How would liberals feel if the Romney campaign cut an ad with the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, directly accusing Barack Obama of causing his murder?  Do you imagine for one instant that they would stifle all criticism of the people making that accusation, instead calmly accepting it as a serious challenge, fairly issued, that requires a detailed response?

People either choose to mount the political stage, or they do not.  There is no reason we should allow copious room in the shadowy wings of that stage, from which certain people get to lob the most vile accusations, then disappear behind the curtains when questions are asked.  As far as I can tell, Joe Soptic was not dragged kicking and screaming into this campaign, and he’s not being held prisoner by the Obama team, to keep him from publicly asserting his dignity and honor.  Holding him responsible for what he says today does not disrespect the memory of his wife.

On the contrary, the general argument Soptic is being used to advance, to the extent any rational argument can be distilled from the Priorities USA ad at all, is that economic liberty is fundamentally immoral, because every business manager is personally responsible – apparently in perpetuity – for the health of every employee he terminates, and their relatives.  It would therefore be immoral for any private sector businessman to fire anyone, for any reason, and unprofitable business models would need to be propped up forever… something only the government mistakenly believes it has the resources to do.  I think I would strenuously object to posthumous efforts by my loved ones to dishonestly use my memory, as part of a campaign to force such a radical transformation upon the American people.  My fellow citizens deserve to be governed by reason, not emotional manipulation.

Update: Some fine detective work from RB at Breitbart.com leads to a plausible theory of how Joe Soptic came to be such a central figure in the Obama campaign.

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