Rep. Ed Markey (D) is generally considered the leading candidate in Massachusetts' upcoming U.S. Senate special election, so it stands to reason there will be considerably more scrutiny of his daily comments than there was before he launched his statewide bid. But scrutiny and manufactured controversies are not the same thing.
Republicans and some elements of the media got pretty worked up yesterday after learning that Markey made this comparison while speaking to a group of supporters this week.
"I want to go to the United States Senate in order to fight for a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United. The whole idea that the Koch brothers, that Karl Rove can say we're coming to Massachusetts, to any state of the union with undisclosed amounts of money is a pollution, which must be changed," Markey said to loud applause.
"The constitution must be amended. The Dred Scott decision had to be repealed, we have to repeal Citizens United," he added.
You can probably guess what happened next. The right and some in the media pounced, arguing that Markey apparently believes there's a moral equivalence between slavery and post-Citizens United campaign-finance laws.
The congressman's phrasing may have been a little awkward, but the criticism is a bit much. As Alex Pareene explained, "[T]he point Markey was making was not that the Citizens United decision was a travesty of justice on par with Dred Scott, but rather the much more prosaic and less inflammatory argument that because it is now Supreme Court precedent, Citizens United will only be overturned by a constitutional amendment, just as Dred Scott had to be."
That's exactly right, but for whatever reason, the political world decided this didn't matter. Ben Smith's reaction struck me as especially problematic: "Kind of hard to imagine a Republican getting away with saying this."
Ben may not have thought this one through.
Putting aside the fact that the "Markey compared campaign finance to slavery" charge just isn't true, the fact remains that Republicans draw all kinds of comparisons involving the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, and do all of the time. Hell, a Republican actually drew the identical parallel that Markey drew, just a few months ago, and neither Ben Smith nor anyone else batted an eye.
Indeed, very high-profile Republicans, including George W. Bush and Paul Ryan -- GOP officials who've held and/or sought national office -- have also used Dred Scott as points of comparison, and as best as I can tell, Ben Smith, other reporters, and Republicans in general never found any of this the least bit problematic.
"Kind of hard to imagine a Republican getting away with saying this"? Republicans have already gotten away with it.
Dave Weigel called yesterday's dust-up an example of "stupid, pack-journalism" searching for a scandal "that simply isn't there." I couldn't agree more.