Last weekend, a conservative blogger in Mississippi named Clayton Kelly was arrested for allegedly sneaking into a nursing home to photograph the wife of Sen. Thad Cochran (R), who suffers from progressive dementia. Two other Mississippi men — one of them a local tea party leader — have since been arrested on conspiracy charges for allegedly taking part in the plot.
Anyone interested in the unseemly details regarding why this might make sense strategically as the hotly contested June 3 primary approaches can read what I've written and said. (It centers around rumors that Cochran has long had a relationship with a woman and staffer who is not his wife.) But let's go bigger. Why do people to do such mean-spirited things in the name of politics in the first place?
Politics and the media are both full of young and ambitious people who don't get paid terribly well, but want to do something big and bold — to make a name for themselves. Both businesses tend to glamorize rule-breakers who not only get away with their risky maneuvers, but earn plaudits for them (Lee Atwater for operatives; Hunter S. Thompson for would-be gonzo journalists), and both exist in a sort of "wild west" where pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable is deemed necessary for success. Both are fueled by caffeine, alcohol, and too much testosterone. This is a business where people are heralded for their ability to "spin," where attacking opponents is an acceptable and expected part of the game.
The incident in Mississippi represents the culmination of many things. We have the convergence of media activism (with the rise of alternative media and blogs), the ever-present problem of campaigns and journalism being stacked full of ambitious young people, and the trend of political campaigns being viewed as tantamount to military battle, meaning that every election is viewed as an existential threat to one's side.
The big lesson is that young political and media operatives ought to be careful. Being virtuous isn't just a touchy-feely thing; in politics, it's a survival strategy.