A New Line Of Attack For Lantos Challenger


The campaign of Jackie Speier, a former California state senator who has all but announced her primary challenge to Tom Lantos’ House seat, is going to have plenty of fodder, if she decides to use it, for nasty attack ads. Throughout his 14 terms in Congress, Lantos, 79, has compiled a mainstream liberal record on domestic issues but on foreign affairs—well, to call him “hawkish” would be a gross understatement. Speier, for example, could point to Lantos’ starring role in pushing the fabricated Gulf War-era story of Iraqi soldiers removing Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and leaving them to die. She could also quote a report by Ha’aretz, later denied by Lantos, that he told an Israeli lawmaker in 2002, “We’ll be rid of the bastard [Saddam] soon enough. And in his place we’ll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you.” Just as easily, she could point to the shameful hold Lantos put on reconstruction aid for Lebanon in 2006 or the fact that he has ratcheted up tensions with Iran. Indeed, she could highlight his chillingly Bushian turns of phrase, like when he cheered NATO as “the military arm of the civilized world” and called Germany’s Gerhard Schroder a “political prostitute” last summer.

Yes, Speier could do any of those things, but I’d like to submit to her an entirely original framework of attack. Call it the Mr. Burns paradigm:

First, note that Lantos bears a more than passing resemblance to the proprietor of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in The Simpsons (and shares his generally Grinch-like demeanor). Then recall that, several years ago, Lantos was fined after running over a young student’s foot outside the Capitol building. While the 13 year-old boy was “screaming” and “several horrified teachers and the principal shouted at Lantos to stop, the California Democrat from San Mateo sat rigidly, staring straight ahead and refusing to get out of his white Ford Taurus.” Now, flashback to a strikingly similar plot line in the classic Simpsons episode, “Bart Gets Hit By A Car,” and complete the connection:

Smithers: I think the boy is hurt.

Burns: Oh for crying out loud, just give him a nickel and let’s get going.

—Justin Elliott