To the Editor:
On September 3, 1816, the Connecticut Courant reported, “A black boy was caught and mangled by a shark while attempting to swim to shore from a vessel in Bristol harbor.” Attempts were made to save him but he was carried down. His remains were found a few days later, deprived of both legs and arms. Was it a ship’s boy on an errand of work or pleasure, or an attempt to gain freedom? All we know is that he was lost, and onlookers were helpless to save him.
It may be the last known shark attack in Rhode Island, and it was a sad and terrible one, grievous in the retelling. But two centuries of perhaps the safest swimming in America, have apparently come to an end. Suddenly, TV and radio ads from the Michael Riley campaign warn us, “There’s a shark in the wate”: Congressman James Langevin.
No swimming advisories have actually been issued, but the overreaching ad hit the airwaves with an awkward thud. The ad also states in part: James Langevin "has received almost $20 million from taxpayers and special interests to use at his own discretion to supposedly champion Rhode Island’s needs."
The ad also puzzlingly suggests, “You may not even recognize Jim Langevin.”
Everyone knew a fact checking article would follow, and it did, agreeing with some basic but misplaced arithmetic and making one of the most damning charges you can make: the ad presents information in a misleading context. And the idea some of us wouldn’t recognize Jim Langevin? Well, someone would have to explain that.
In Mr. Riley, Congressman Langevin faces the best-funded challenger he’s ever faced in RICD2. But Congressman Langevin is a benign homegrown politician who, but for a recent heavy fine for a campaign finance issue, has mostly avoided trouble and has decent favorability ratings, perhaps motivating the unrestrained attack. But Mr. Riley’s summing up the incumbent’s salary, his staff and office budget and political campaign contributions and making it sound as if he had attacked taxpayers and misappropriated or misapplied their money was recklessly off target.
Never in his media interviews had Mr. Riley even begun to build a narrative to support such an attack and he never had to defend it. Mr. Riley, when asked how he would attack the incumbent had called Mr. Langevin “absent.” But there was no “shark” narrative and there was no narrative indicating misappropriation or abuse of discretion with taxpayer money. He should not have approved that message.
I agree with Mr. Riley that we have urgent challenges facing our nation. And I would add that we need the most we can possibly get from our congressional representatives. Mr. Riley argues his experience as a Wall Street options specialist, day trader and hedge fund manager gives him an edge in economics. He could contrast that experience with the incumbent.
And Congressman Langevin should be challenged on his record but the attack must hold water.
Jim Langevin is fairly criticized as a party line vote. He is one of the “herd” and aligns himself closely with others: Nancy Pelosi, President Obama and even freshman congressman David Cicilline, whose election prompted him to support marriage equality and with whom he made a very weak pitch against Rhode Island’s excellent and Democrat sponsored voter ID law. He plays it safe and stays with the herd.
In 2010 the incumbent was called “no ball of fire” by an endorsing newspaper Editorial Board. It is worth mentioning that they did nonetheless endorse him because he demonstrated a greater sense of what our federal government does and is expected to do. Republican candidates for Congress are expected to deal with all the thinks our government does and likely will continue to do and influence during the next two years. Contrasting positions on a variety of issues with the incumbent is a good way to do it.
Our six-term incumbent has beaten the drum on cyber security ever since an episode of “60 Minutes” gave him a moment in the limelight three years ago. But his role diminished when the Republicans took control of the house in 2010. New efforts from the Senate took center stage. This is good grist for the mill.
In my 2012 campaign, I called cyber security “Langevin’s featherbed,” portraying it as a politically “comfortable place,” at a time when Jim’s party arguably owns a very poor economy despite their efforts when they had both houses and the presidency prior to 2010. I argued his ideas had been rejected, specifically his ideas to put cyber security and cyber authority over the “whole of government” under the White House itself. I argued such an idea was dangerous and worried me that the incumbent didn’t understand the importance of separation of powers. I let it be known to the media that the field of cyber security would no longer be a parade ground for Jim Langevin.
I criticized the incumbent for voting against new refineries and oil production and distinguished myself from him on the issue by writing and speaking about our disadvantaged fuels supply line. I argued that by getting onto the supply of domestically produced fuels and off overseas imports, we might lower prices for every Rhode Islander who purchases gasoline, diesel or home heating oil.
Congressman Langevin hasn’t got serious “shark” issues, but he is vulnerable on cyber security, energy and almost anything his party has done or failed to do can be attached to him. But the real point of a challenge to Jim Langevin must be “I am the ball of fire you are looking for!”
An overreaching attack unsupported by any prior narrative and some math presented in a misleading context is just a waste of time, money and party support. There is an incumbent congressman who’s been “circling around” congress and the second district for 6 terms already, and voters would consider a reasonable alternative. But that’s no shark, that’s just Jim.
Michael J. Gardiner
Michael J. Gardiner is a Providence attorney and was one of three other Republican candidates defeated by the endorsed candidate Michael Riley, in the GOP primary on September 11, 2012. Riley (R) faces incumbent Congressman James Langevin (D) and independent Able Collins in the general election on November 6, 2012.