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What’s American and what’s not

Few debates in American politics are more useless than who is more patriotic than whom.

In fact, I consider it a rule that the candidate who first questions the patriotism of the other is automatically the candidate standing on weaker ground.

Last week, in an appearance on “Ralston Reports with Jon Ralston,” Erin Bilbray, Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, suggested that a fundraising email sent out by her Republican opponent, Rep. Joe Heck, was an un-American attack on women.

“As a woman, you know what? You don’t come out of the box and attack your opponent this far out,” Bilbray said. “I am a woman. I’m a woman. There’s no getting around it. And I think he was wrong and I think it discourages people from participating in the process and that is wrong and that is un-American.”

So what’s in this dreaded email? What despicable, misogynist remarks did Heck hurl at Bilbray to earn the Army Reserve colonel who served in Iraq the title “un-American”? He called her “a liberal activist, fundraiser and Democrat spin doctor,” “a partisan political consultant who lives outside the district,” “Harry Reid’s hand-picked candidate” and added that she’s “made her living playing politics to get candidates elected that [sic] will be a rubber stamp for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s liberal agenda.”

And while Bilbray quibbles with the characterization of herself as “liberal,” the rest of what’s in there is pretty much accurate. And none of it is even remotely an attack on Bilbray’s gender, or even that unusual for politics.

Asked by Ralston to point out the gender attack in Heck’s email, Bilbray stuck to her message: “By being that angry and that negative so early on, that discourages women from being involved in politics,” she said.

Would it be misogynistic of me to point out that discouraging all opponents — regardless of gender — is what good politicians do? Or that claiming your opponent is attacking your gender over what is actually a rather banal fundraising pitch makes you look weak? Or that such a misplaced charge suggests the fairer sex really isn’t ready for the rough-and-tumble of political campaigns, or at least wants special rules for the process? Or that saying Heck is un-American (or, at the very least, has done something un-American) when he’s really done nothing out of the ordinary is going to blow back on your own campaign?

Surely, I need not: Bilbray knows full-well, as former head of an organization that aims to get women involved in politics, the perils and pitfalls of running. If you seek to get involved in modern politics — whether it’s running for office or simply commenting on a newspaper story — you can expect to be attacked, sometimes with vicious untruths. Does that discourage people (of both genders) from participating? Of course it does. Would it be better if everybody was nicer and played by the political equivalent of Marquess of Queensberry Rules? Perhaps. But it’s important always for people to distinguish the world as they wish it to be and the world that is.

And it’s only gets worse from here.

Curiously, later in the interview, Bilbray discussed the government shutdown in terms of its effect on Nevada businesses and families and called it “uncompassionate.” She didn’t add, although she could have, that Republicans — including Joe Heck — cast votes that they knew with absolute certainty would result in closing the federal government. They put their failed crusade to delay the Affordable Care Act above the consequences of a government shutdown. They traded the constitutional order for chaos. And even though Heck later relented and voted with a congressional majority to re-open the government, his earlier votes led directly to its closure in the first place.

Now that’s un-American!

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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