Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reuters misses the significance of Wayne Dumond

From the guilty party:
Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas who leads the Republican field in Iowa and is rising in national polls, has his own potential Willie Horton, in the name of Wayne Dumond.

Dumond was serving a life prison term for raping a 17-year-old cheerleader in Arkansas in 1984. In 1996 his appeals for clemency attracted the attention of Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, after the inmate was said to have found religion.

Dumond gained freedom when paroled by the state's parole board -- with Huckabee's endorsement -- and moved to the Kansas City area in 1999.

Less than a year later, Carol Sue Shields died of suffocation, and Dumond was convicted in her murder. He died in prison of natural causes in 2005.

The case roiled Arkansas politics at the time and now that Huckabee's presidential campaign is rising, it is getting national attention.

Of course, it wasn't the fact that Dumond supposedly "found religion" that attracted Governor Huckabee's attention; it was the governor's need to please the rumormongering anti-Clintonites of the right wing. Wayne Dumond had become something of a cause celebre on the Right, and they had constructed an entire alternate narrative of his circumstances that they could gather in their seedy little corners of the internet and froth over. You see, it all hangs on one little detail about this case that this piece never bothered to mention: that first victim of Dumond's was a distant cousin of then-governor William Jefferson Clinton.

Now do you see where this is going?

According to the reality-challenged version concocted by conservative ideologues, Clinton then put Dumond, a father and Vietnam veteran, on trial for rape just because he wanted revenge and to advance his career. And Dumond was probably totally innocent anyway. Even worse, while he was awaiting trial, Clinton even sent some of his goons to go castrate Dumond for his alleged crimes! That sick, sick troop-hating pinko!

Well, these wankers eventually caught the ear of Clinton's successor, who was looking for some opportunity to step out from under the shadow of the Big Dawg, and he went to the mat for these guys. He pulled strings, bent the rules, and lobbied the parole board hard for his release. Huckabee was so far in the tank for these guys that he assumed they were right about Dumond without really investigating the matter for himself; people who spoke with him about it noted his ignorance of the details of the case, and at times he would even cite exculpatory evidence that only existed in conservative mythology, to the bafflement of the other actors in this play. From a fantastic Arkansas Times story:
“He [Huckabee] kept insisting that there was DNA evidence that has since exonerated Dumond, when that very much wasn’t the case,” recalled Long. “No matter that that wasn’t true … we couldn’t seem to say or do anything to disabuse him of that notion.”

In fact, there had never been any DNA testing in the Ashley Stevens case.

Had he not been blinded by desire to appease the darker elements of the Right, maybe he wouldn't have so easily dismissed evidence everyone else, included the jury that convicted him, found to be pretty compelling: Wayne Dumond had a string of crimes of this sort on his rap sheet, was suspected in a couple of other sexual assault cases that were not yet adjudicated and was positively IDed by the victim of the crime for which he was serving time. Sometimes men with these demons abuse their own bodies out of guilt or self-hatred or whatever; it's not exactly unheard-of for sex offenders to castrate themselves.

Of course, the jury, the victim, and the parole board's instincts (they originally wanted to deny parole) were proven right, and Huckabee and the ultraconservative ideologues wrong, when Dumond got out of prison, moved to Missouri, and raped and murdered a young woman there. He was also suspected in a second rape and murder in Missouri, but died in prison before the case could go to court.

Huckabee is now denying that he had a hand in Dumond's release, pinning it instead on the parole board. Tristero dispenses with that argument easily enough. It appears, however, that Huckabee doesn't really have to deny it or parse or dissemble on his role of l'Affair Dumond because our media will never get the story right.

Why is that, you may be asking? Because the underlying narrative of the story is one that the national press has considered verboten for the last 30 years: it's about the incredible disconnect from reality under which the far right labors, and the individual conservative ideologue's inability to see facts that don't support his worldview. The story is significant and noteworthy in a presidential race because it shows just how far in the tank Mike Huckabee is for far-right conspiratorialists. He doesn't just listen to them, he trusts them and believes whatever they tell him so implicitly that he'll make major governmental decisions based solely on their advice and without ever looking into the matter for himself. It's about a presidential candidate who's a terrible judge of character, who has trouble discerning truth from myth (especially when said truths seem to contradict his movement conservative, Christian fundamentalist worldview), and is easily manipulated into making poor decisions even by people with little or no credibility.

Sound at all familiar?

Yet in order to highlight this main point of the Dumond episode, you have to be willing to point out that right wing crazies seized upon Dumond's story, metamorphosed it into a sob story about the evil, conniving Bill Clinton and his heroic victim, and sold it back to a pitifully uninformed and gullible Huckabee. And you will never see a major news channel, newspaper, or magazine portray the far right in such a way. After all, we already know that the media is so scared of right wing retaliation that they'd rather let an egregiously unqualified man win the presidency than disclose his numerous flaws and risk their ire.

This is the same reason why Huckabee's evolution gaffe in the first GOP debate is so important. If you'll remember, Brian Williams (I believe) asked the entire field to raise their hand if they do NOT believe in evolution, and Huckabee raised his hand. He knew he'd screwed up afterwards and tried to dissemble on his answer, focusing instead on human evolution and abiogenesis, but the damage had been done.

Evolution, as a biological principle, is indisputably true: not only can you watch bacteria evolve in a petri dish in an afternoon, but there's a mountain of scientific evidence that evolution happens. For instance, scientists recently found that people of Germanic/northern European descent are more resistant to bubonic plague than others (and, interestingly, HIV, because it attacks cells in a similar way) because of their higher exposure to the Black Death in the Middle Ages. We have to develop new flu vaccines every year because influenza evolves, becoming more resistant to old vaccines. Conagra and Monsanto forcibly evolve corn and soybean plants, annually releasing new seeds that grow stronger, hardier, more productive crops. To deny evolution as a principle, even in the case of humans, requires a particularly acute fear of reality, a willingness to ignore an overwhelming array of evidence in order to hold onto a position that won't force you to ask uncomfortable questions.

Do we really want another president who so flagrantly denies reality when it's uncomfortable for him?

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