'If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
The late Johnnie Cochran wasn't defending Vincent Sheheen when he made that infamously effective 1995 appeal to a Los Angeles jury. But here's a timely variation on that snappy line from the bombastic barrister in the O.J. Simpson double-murder "Trial of the Century" (the 20th, that was):
If Vincent Sheheen's past as a defense attorney doesn't make him unworthy of being our governor (and it doesn't), you must base your voting choice on other considerations.
And when Sheheen, who lost to Nikki Haley by a mere 51.4-47.0 percent in the 2010 governor's race, loses to her again by a significantly larger margin in November, it should be because, among other reasons:
Haley rates some credit for the remarkable decline in our state's unemployment rate on her gubernatorial watch - from 10.5 percent to 5.5 percent.
So why does a Republican Governors Association commercial now airing ludicrously target Sheheen's defense attorney record?
As an unseen female narrator says he "represented a sex offender who abused a minor," viewers see a child. Then we see a woman with a tear rolling down her cheek alongside printed words from news accounts, including "threatening to kill her." Then we see another woman on fearful watch by a window.
The asinine ad closes with an unflattering image of the state senator's face as the narrator warns: "Vincent Sheheen protects criminals, not us."
Actually, criminal defense attorneys, by job definition, defend criminal suspects.
Yes, most charged criminal suspects are guilty - even on "Law and Order."
Yet as Columbia-based Post and Courier colleague Jeremy Borden reported in Friday's paper, another S.C. politician once delivered this defense of the defense-attorney function: "This system of justice that we're so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer."
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told Foreign Policy magazine that in 2010. He also said that as an Air Force JAG officer he had represented defendants "charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all."
S.C. Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore offered this weak defense in response to that fellow Republican's perspective: "We're not denigrating all lawyers. I don't think Sen. Graham has anything to do with this."
Think again. That RGC ad doesn't just insult defense attorneys' integrity. It insults the public's intelligence.
We right-wingers rightly wary of Big Brother should also be wary of depriving a criminal defendant of a competent legal defense against a government trying to imprison or execute him or her. (By the legal-living way, Sheheen has toiled as a prosecutor.)
Democrats and their backers air unfair, intelligence-insulting commercials, too. In 2012, the president's re-election campaign even ran one branding Mitt Romney as a "corporate raider" who "shipped jobs to China and Mexico" - a blatantly false accusation. The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column gave that Obama spot "Four Pinocchios," its highest "whoppers" rating.
Then again, some negative ads are positively accurate. And as the U.S. Supreme Court recently and correctly reminded us, campaign speech is free speech.
Still, campaign-commercial character assassination scares lots of folks - and not just defense attorneys and venture capitalists - away from politics. Ponder the attack ads that could be aimed at anybody who ever worked as a:
Computer technician (kept making people change passwords); repo man or woman (took their car in the dark of night); comedian (mocked people over their appearances and other unfortunate plights); cruise-ship captain (kept his vessel spewing toxic emissions while in port); telemarketer (interrupted dinner); preacher (invoked hurtful, archaic, moral judgments); public-relations person (conspired to 'spin' facts); oil tycoon (reaped huge profits while fueling global warming); fast-food tycoon (reaped heavy profits while feeding global fattening); environmentalist (promoted job-killing regulations); bartender (fueled alcoholism); timber tycoon (deforested the land); college professor or administrator (promoted aberrant lifestyles); and rasslers (hit people with metal chairs).
High above the fray
Of course, the newspaper profession is so universally respected that political smear merchants wouldn't dare besmirch a candidate's experience in it.
Still, we print journalists are justifiably reluctant to dive into the elective-office-seeking cesspool. After all, many of us recall that though Marion (Ohio) Daily Star owner Warren Harding won the presidency in 1920, he collapsed and died less than three years into that stressful, unsavory White House gig.
So don't vote against anybody just because she or he has been a defense attorney, venture capitalist, rassler or even a P.R. flack.
Sure, compared to the lofty calling of putting out news-papers, those are dirty jobs.
But somebody's got to do them.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.
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