…The answer is: very, very wickedly. But I get ahead of myself.

Background: New York’s 21st district. After the dust, thunder, and occasional bare-knuckle brawl in an alley that was the 2010 NY redistricting died down, NY-23’s Rep. Bill Owens jumped into this new seat… and won in a bare squeaker against Matt Doheny. Rep. Owens subsequently decided to retire after this term, which is a major reason why the open seat is generally considered a tossup (well, that and the fact that it’s R+2). This year it’s Republican Elise Stefanik against Democrat Aaron Woolf, and there’s an interesting wrinkle there.

We start this story off with a most curious letter to the editor last Friday to the Watertown Daily Times, in which a fellow by the name of Michael Flynn (keep track of that name) demands to know Ms. Stefanik’s current dating history. …No, really.

“Does Elise Stefanik have a private relationship with anyone?”

As an independent political analyst, voter and supporter of Aaron Woolf, I made this observation in the comments section of the Watertown Daily Times’s website. Please note that I am not in any formal way affiliated with the Aaron Woolf campaign, and seek neither its approval or encouragement for anything I write. I am doing what I’ve done the last three congressional races as an observer and an independent political observer at that: just looking to evaluate events on a daily basis.

You’ll see in a moment why I quoted that second paragraph, and bolded that text. Anyway, seeing as the only proper answer to that is None of your goram business, Sparky (go ask Dr. Judith Steinberg how she felt about having to be dragged into her husband’s* Presidential campaign in 2004, whether she wanted to be or not) the blow-back was immediate:

And Michael Flynn did not like that.  He did not like that at all.  Which is why he’s now claiming, via the comments section of local (and locally important) New York blog Mayor Graham’s View, that the Woolf campaign encouraged him to write that letter.  And possibly even encouraged him to seek the Woolf campaign’s approval, contra the aforementioned bolded part above.

Now, let us talk about how the sausage is made.  Jeff Graham (the guy who runs Mayor Graham’s View) is completely correct when he notes that Letters to the Editor are rarely truly spontaneous representations of the popular mood; generally speaking, it’s a poor campaign that doesn’t encourage their supporters to write them**.  What’s very interesting here is how heavy-handed the direction was. The Woolf campaign, if pressed, would no doubt piously declare that it never told its minion to specifically obsess over a Republican female candidate’s dating history: but it can’t particularly deny that it had a relationship with said minion in the first place.  Or that said relationship was once deemed… useful enough to encourage, right up to the point where it was suddenly not.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, then you’re probably remembering the horrendously vicious exercise in cynicism that was the Democratic party’s exploitation of the antiwar movement, as personified by Cindy Sheehan.  For those who don’t remember – which is to say, most of the country – Sheehan was a woman broken by tragedy – the loss of her son in the GWOT – and when the national Democratic party discovered her it decided to wind Sheehan up and send her walking towards George W Bush instead of, say, fixing her.  And as soon as it became… sub-optimal… for Sheehan to have a relationship with the Democratic party, the Democratic party abandoned her.

And that’s really the issue here, isn’t it?  Everybody in this thing of ours knows that there are fragile people out there that are potentially valuable in the short run, yet… problematic in the longer one.  The ethical question that arises then is what do you do with those people? As in, do you use them, or do you keep them at arm’s-length for both their sake, and yours? Judging from their actions and reactions, it would appear that the Woolf campaign flubbed the answer.

And I do kind of find that sad. No, really: the amused glee with which I started this post has quite dissipated…

Moe Lane (crosspost)

PS: Elise Stefanik for NY-21.

*Howard Dean, in case you were wondering.

**Smart campaigns also find friendly bloggers and let them know about juicy stories. Really smart ones don’t try to write the stores for the bloggers.