MINOT, N.D. — Call me old fashioned, but I believe if you call someone a terrorist and that person isn’t a terrorist, you should apologize to that person.
North Dakota state Sen. Oley Larsen, a Republican from Minot who a week ago claimed on Facebook that Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., was an al Qaeda-trained terrorist, has a different interpretation of proper contrition.
He wrote in a letter to the editor that while he was sorry for posting false information, he was not apologizing to Omar.
For this purpose of this column, what’s salient is not Larsen’s fabulism or his lack of integrity in refusing to apologize to a person he maligned with a blatant falsehood or even his resistance to stepping down from his leadership position in the Legislature.
What’s important is how some Republicans chose to react to Larsen’s idiocy.
Let’s turn back the clock to the spring of last year. It was the dawn of the 2018 election cycle. Al Jaeger, the long-time Republican Secretary of State, had just been defeated by newcomer Will Gardner for the NDGOP’s endorsement.
Jaeger’s career seemed over. Gardner was ascendent.
But then The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Tu-Uyen Tran reported a 2006 incident in which Gardner was observed by law enforcement to be peering into the windows of a female dormitory at North Dakota State University. When confronted by officers, at least one of them reported that Gardner’s shirt was untucked and his pants undone. This same officer noted that Gardner’s wallet and belt were on a seat in his car.
Gardner’s campaign imploded. Jaeger got back in the race and won re-election.
The reaction at the time from some Republicans in the state, however, was a disgrace.
They hatched conspiracy theories about “the establishment” doing Gardner in. They urged Gardner to stay in the race and campaign. They verbally attacked those who argued that a peeping tom had no business on the statewide ballot.
Since I broke the news about Larsen’s obnoxious Facebook stylings, the reaction has been similar. A particular faction of Republicans closed ranks around Larsen. They suggested, with no hint of shame, that he was maybe right about Omar. They accused those of us critical of Larsen of being fake conservatives.
What’s remarkable is that many in this same faction routinely talk about the importance of holding Republicans accountable. Yet they defend Republicans guilty of puerile behavior or dishonesty.
This nonsense is hardly unique to the right. For instance, Democrats who shrugged off Qatar’s millions of dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation have been quick to demand the impeachment of President Trump because foreign governments book rooms and events at his hotels.
“Almost everybody finds a way to excuse the sins of the leaders they prefer,” National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote recently.
The success of democratic forms of government relies on voters having the right motivations for who they support. When politics devolves into a team sport, where my guy is always the hero and your guy the villain, success is not what we can hope to find.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.