What! Oh no they didn’t! Well they did!
The Fung campaign launched an attack ad this week on Ken Block calling his supporters “Blockheads.” Block supporters were made fun of, depicted with block shaped heads, on television and in high definition.
Mean things were said.
Afflicted Blockheads appear in the ad saying that Ken Block had voted for Obama twice. Is there no decency left in the world? Even if it is true, you just don’t have to rub that in someone’s face and certainly not when our President, just traded five Taliban fighters for a wayward soldier whose frolic and detour cost other soldiers their lives while they searched for him. Even CNN’s Friend of Obama (FOO) Chris Matthews wants the Obama Presidency to be a thing of the past. Sure, of course, we leave no man behind. And some of our soldiers are going to fall out, go AWOL or flat out desert, and we should bring them home and treat them appropriately, with honor, care, or justice, as may be required not leave them behind, no matter what. But it’s hard not to wretch on trading five terrorists for a likely deserter and possible “collaborator.” And that takes us to another of the horrible things said in the “Blockheads” ad.
He’s a collaborator. Not really, but it sounds good right? In “Blockheads” one of the “afflicted” Blockheads reported Block was advisor to Governor Chaffee. But Ken Block wasn’t an “advisor.” .Why get it wrong? Why confuse him with Republican Catherine Taylor, who almost became the only statewide Republican elected official in 2012, narrowly losing to incumbent Secretary of State Ralph Mollis? Why confuse him with Republican Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian, appointed by Governor Chafee to head the RIPTA Board. Why not just say Block “collaborated” with Chafee. Burn! High fives all around.
In his “collaboration” phase, Ken Block was actually just trying to keep his Moderate Party (motto: I’m not a Republican) brand alive and build name recognition for 2014 while demonstrating that he could save the state millions in fraud and waste, as he claimed he did in Texas. And when I say claimed, it’s only fair to note that his claim was “Politifacted” and as a non-Republican he was eligible for and allowed a good score. And let’s be fair. I am sure that ambition and pursuit of relevance aside, Ken Block wanted to see if he could do it here in Rhode Island too. But, he was still an outsider looking in, and when his report was released, much of his findings dealt with federal programs. No blockbuster savings emerged. But Governor Chafee was gracious to give Ken Block the chance and probably didn’t appreciate Ken Block then announcing he was running for Governor because the state “desperately needed leadership” or words to that effect. One has to wonder if Chaffee voters might not be a little put off by the harshness.
So was “Blockheads” too mean to “Gentle Ken?” This campaign has been snippy and accusatory from the start. I started hearing Block people refer to Fung as “this guy” as in “can you believe this guy” months ago. It’s disrespectful. I didn’t like it. Fung is a Republican Mayor in a state where no Republican holds any state wide office. We should have some respect. This sort of talk was repaid in kind as Lincoln Almond, endorsing Fung last week, referred to Block saying “have you listened to this guy” with the same mocking dismissiveness. I’d like to see less of that.
But, as Fung should receive some respect as a Republican Mayor, when someone has registered as a Republican and is running as a credible Republican candidate as Ken Block has done, He also is due some courtesy. I was glad to see Ken Block register as a Republican and welcomed his focus on better more efficient “ways and means.” Maybe we could benefit from a business man/technician approach? That seems reasonable. But as my faith prohibits idolatry I try not to get so enamored of even my preferred candidate that I take it all so personally. Politics are like roses, glorious and full of thorns. “Blockheads” didn’t really bother me because of its brutality. Rather I worried that the Fung campaign had just tarnished up a campaign that has really started to take on some polish and shine of late.
A big enough tent
Disrespect sounds bad. The tent really IS big enough for conservative and moderate Republicans. I assure you too, there is also room for Republicans who believe in paper money and the Federal Reserve. I know I do. But, you can’t vote for Obama twice! I never voted for President Obama. I laugh if he’s funny and respect him as the office holder. I will stand if he enters the room, and I am certain that we could share a laugh about his jeans, and even bust a manwich selfie with the Prime mister of Denmark, but I didn’t vote for him. But if you really did support Obamacare, Ken, than say why and give us your analysis and insights. That’s your brand. That’s what the GOP needs from you, not just becoming the default candidate for the party’s “edgy,” over-enthusiastic and contrarians.
The truth is, maybe we should have kept the public option and yes, lead everyone with Trojan bridal and reigns to at least a base of assured health insurance at a cheap price. That’s my kind of mandate. Feels like getting an apple instead of a spur kick in the groin. Then, we could have just taken it entirely off the backs of employers and watched the economy soar as we made the second tier market free of state lines, nationwide and competitive.
Whether you think it’s funny or crass, I think the Blockheads ad was ill advised. Not because it’s mean, but because I think outside of talk radio and taxpayer groups Ken Block is still a fairly unknown, untested and unproven brand. Why would the Fung Campaign get everyone talking about Ken Block? Frankly, I thought team Fung slaughtered team Block in May by getting a good ad on television and a good mailing out, both well produced. Fung is still the home team, and by getting on the air first, with a positive ad, he has made a strong showing that his campaign has the stuff to win the primary and give the Democrat challenger a real contest. His first ad was positive and talked about his experience, Cranston’s improved economic outlook and made a case he could do the same as Governor. I think the party views him as the home team. They are considering Block because it’s the fair minded thing to do. He’s a credible choice and the party is lucky to have him aboard. Is it good for the party that should support the primary victor to have a primary campaign full of ridicule?
So what does “Blockheads” really accomplish? Well, it got a lot of attention. Overall it was a little negative for Fung in the short term. He lost Bob Kerr’s vote. Instead of shedding liberal journalist votes like dog sheds hair in July, the Fung campaign should be advertising Mayor Fung’s great success in picking up endorsements within the party. And, “Blockheads” may have galvanized Ken Block’s supporters and given them some fire when otherwise, they must have been feeling a little worried about Fung’s resilience. Raising his name recognition in an interesting way, the ad has in effect been an ad for Block that could help him in the general election. But will it help him win the party endorsement and the primary?
In the long run, as people get used to the ad, the objections the ad will soften and but it’s message to Republican primary voters will endure. Whether you view “Blockheads” as an avant-garde triumph of Cubism, the best thing since “Mean Girls,” or an affront to decency that cries out for a time of healing, and Maya Angelou verses in social media, it does make one very salient point for a voter in the Republican primary. Ken Block voted for President Obama twice. Just what can you say to that?
Mike Gardiner is an attorney in Providence and host of the Mic Gardiner Show, Tuesdays at 6 PM.
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