There should be a Godwin’s Law for Debating the Primary Election in CD9

Since Godwin’s Law specifically concerns making analogies or comparisons with Hitler and/or the Nazis, It is possible that I may have already violated it by calling for a similar law concerning how we debate the Democratic primary election in CD9, but because I believe that the coward/fighter card has been played to such an extent that even an “academic” (with political ambitions that could be realized by having good friends in Clifton and West Paterson in particular and Passaic County in general) like Mark Alexander and the Star-Ledger editorial board are willing to play gutter politics and use it, I am willing to chance it, because reasonable people need to recognize not just the rhetoric’s fraudulence, but also how far out of bounds it truly is.

For anyone who is not familiar with Godwin’s Law, wikipedia describes it as follows:

Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies[1][2]) is an observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990[2] that has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”[2][3] In other words, Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion-regardless of topic or scope-someone inevitably makes some comparison to Hitler and the Nazis.

But even more important than the law itself is the more common corollary:

There are many corollaries to Godwin’s law, some considered more canonical (by being adopted by Godwin himself)[3] than others.[1] For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.[8] This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin’s law. It is considered poor form to raise such a comparison arbitrarily with the motive of ending the thread. There is a widely recognized corollary that any such ulterior-motive invocation of Godwin’s law will be unsuccessful.[9]

Applied similarly to the Democratic primary election in CD9, such a corollary/law would disqualify any argument involving a candidate’s choice to run in a particular district versus another district, because while it is all well and good to repeat a desperate campaign’s only talking point ad nauseum (or reductio ad Rothmanum if you will), doing so only serves to lower the level of discourse and does not reflect well on the person making the argument, regardless of whether or not they might have personal political motives for debasing themselves and destroying their credibility in such a way.

There are a lot of arguments that Mark Alexander could have made to justify his endorsement of Bill Pascrell, Jr..  As 12M has cited on so many occasions, his voting record on trade issues is better than Rothman’s.  He has also been a leader on issues concerning first responders and homeland security.  Yet with this and other issues that he could have discussed at his disposal, he chose to lead with the following:

I know that if Bill were drawn into a congressional district with Scott Garrett – the darling of the Tea Party – he would not back down.  He would have brought that fight right to Garrett’s doorstep and put another seat in play to regain the majority for the Democrats, just like he did in 1996.

For a Seton Hall Law professor, whose “scholarship” focuses on the intersection of law, politics and government, Mark displays a broad and deep ignorance of NJ politics and exhibits a pathetic willingness to allow the Pascrell campaign to write his endorsement for him.  If he had even a narrow and shallow understanding of NJ politics and even the bare minimum of self-respect required to thoughtfully consider the arguments that he is making when crafting an endorsement of a candidate in an election of this magnitude, he would have recognized the following:

1) Bill Pascrell, Jr. had a representative on the congressional redistricting commission, so if he was the fighter that he and others claim that he is, he had every opportunity to demand the head-to-head matchup with Garrett in a competitive district that they claim Rothman ran away from.  A district, consisting of all of Passaic and Sussex Counties and SW Bergen, could have easily been constructed, resulting in a competitive district of his own in the remainder of Bergen County for Rothman.  However, Pascrell’s representative negotiated a safe district for Pascrell on both the Democratic and Republican maps.  The only significant differences between the two maps with regards to the merger of the old CD5, CD8, and CD10 into the new CD5 and CD9 were the degrees of competitiveness of the new CD5.

2) When Bill Pascrell defeated Bill Martini in 1996, he was not facing a tough Republican opponent in a tough Republican district like Rush Holt did when he lost to Mike Pappas that same year (two years before defeating him in their post-“Twinkle Twinkle Kenneth Starr” rematch).  He (Pascrell) was running against a freshman Republican two years after he (Martini) had defeated a freshman Democrat in the 1994 “angry white male” (I guess being Jewish prevented Herb Klein from appearing white enough for the “angry white male” CD8 voters that threw him out of office) Gingrich Revolution two years after he (Klein) had replaced Robert Roe (the same one with his name on the Federal building where Pascrell’s district office is located), a Democrat who had held the seat for over twenty years.

Thus, when Pascrell and his endorsers/surrogates repeat the talking point that he somehow answered the call (cleared the field would be more accurate) in 1996 to run unopposed in the Democratic primary election for Congress in a Democratic district in a Presidential election year, where his election (as well as his re-election in 1998, 2000, and beyond until this year) was all but guaranteed, what they should really be saying is that he made the most of his opportunity to ascend from his positions of Assemblyman and Mayor to the Congress, because that is all that he did.

There was nothing magnanimous or self-sacrificial about anything that Pascrell did through his initial run for Congress or has done ever since.  He risked nothing by running and gained everything, becoming the de facto boss of Passaic County (if he wasn’t already, which could also explain Klein’s 1994 loss) in the process.

This year’s Democratic primary election in the new CD9 could have produced a great debate and provided us with a tremendous amount of insight into the values of its constituents, comparing Pascrell’s strong positions on important economic issues with Rothman’s mixed record on the same or similar issues as well as Rothman’s strong positions on important social issues with Pascrell’s mixed record on the same or similar issues.

Instead, otherwise intelligent people, who are so consumed with defeating Scott Garrett, chose to make a single decision, which many other elected officials have made before without being subjected to the same degree of cruxifixion (yes, Rothman is Jewish, but so was Jesus), the be all and end of this race.  When you consider how rare contested primary elections are in this state, I think that it is safe to argue that we all, opponents and supporters of Pascrell and Rothman, have failed miserably in elevating the level of discourse in this race.

Mark Alexander’s endorsement is not the only example of this failure.  It is just the most recent one.  The only difference between him and the rest of us is he might have something to gain from doing so, while the rest of us have just been narrow-minded and short-sighted.

Comments (6)

  1. Erik Preuss

    Yet your post mainly attacks Mark Alexander and Pascrell’s campaign.  It seems to me that if you were being sincere you should have stopped writing after the fourth paragraph.  Instead, you continued to write and attacked Alexander and Pascrell–lowering the level of discourse.  If you don’t want anyone to argue over whether or not Rothman is a coward than you should lead by example and avoid the conflict yourself.

    All of that being said, it seems perfectly reasonable that Rothman be attacked for moving his place of residence and running against an incumbent democrat.  Regardless of whether or not a large portion of his constituents were redistricted to Pascrell, he made a political decision to move into Pascrell’s “new” district and run in a primary against him.  We can debate whether or not Rothman is a coward over and over again, but regardless of what side you are on, it won’t change the fact that Rothman’s decision was political.  Any political decision made by a candidate is and should be subject to scrutiny.  

    Additionally, you attack Pascrell: “he had every opportunity to demand the head-to-head matchup with Garrett in a competitive district that they claim Rothman ran away from” do you realize how ludicrous this sounds?  First of all lets consider that the redistricting commission wouldn’t have necessarily approved a Pascrell move to the 5th even if he did demand a matchup.  Second, and more important, no sitting congressman would demand a head to head matchup with another sitting congressman.  It just so happened that Rothman’s district got moved.  The bottom line was that one sitting Democrat was going to get merged into Garrett’s district, you are saying Pascrell isn’t a fighter because he didn’t demand to get put in that district….so what does that make Rothman?

    Lastly, as much as some people on this website might argue with this, Rothman and Pascrell aren’t that different.  They are both progressive and share many of the same views.  My reason for bringing this up is because you ask that the level of discourse be elevated to deal with the issues.  The problem is that these candidates don’t offer a strong contrast on issues, they are very similar.  So all you are left with for them to argue with is how strong each of their records are and howRothman ducked Garrett.  

    Don’t get me wrong I’m not re-engaging in this debate.  My point is that arguing over whether or not Rothman is a coward or hurt Democrats by moving to a new district is a legitimate campaign issue–it became one when Rothman decided to move for political reasons.

  2. mf2012

    You can’t just declare “there should be a Godwin’s Law” for your preferred candidate’s biggest vulnerability just because you don’t like hearing about it or you want your guy to win. The reason for the original Godwin’s Law is that internet debates often eventually turned towards ridiculous slippery slope arguments, and the purpose of the “law” is to discourage that kind of faulty and weak reasoning.

    There’s nothing wrong with talking about Rothman’s decision about where to run. It’s a perfectly valid thing to talk about. It’s not like someone is being criticized for his race, religion, gender, or some other inappropriate factor. Rothman made a political choice, and that choice is just as valid a topic of discussion as any other political choice, including actual votes in Congress.

    You might not think Rothman’s choice about where to run is important. If you feel that way, you’re probably voting for Rothman. That’s fine. I think Rothman’s choice is important. But regardless of how important a choice it is, you should see it’s not something that should be out of bounds, like, for example, attacking a candidate because of religion. Attacking a candidate and voting against a candidate for that candidate’s own political choices is just fine.

    If you want to see more why I think Rothman’s decision is an important issue, see my comment on this post:

    But feel free to disagree.


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