One tactic used by some candidates and incumbents to deflect criticism directed at them is to declare that any person or group making a particular criticism is engaging in “politically motivated attacks.” [I use the term “criticism” broadly to include (1) criticism of the candidate’s or incumbent’s record, (2) criticism of actions taken by the candidate or incumbent, and (3) criticism of the positions and policies espoused by the candidate or incumbent.] Superficially, the phrase “politically motivated attacks” may seem appropriate if the person or group making a particular criticism is a known or obvious political opponent. But evidence of a political motivation for making a criticism is factually and logically separate and distinct from whether there is merit and validity to the criticism being made.
Even if a person or group is politically opposed to a candidate or incumbent, their political opposition does not preclude the possibility that they may be making a fair, valid criticism about the candidate or incumbent. Of course, members of the public should give careful consideration to whether a person or group’s political opposition to a candidate or incumbent is clouding their judgment or leading them to make an unfair, unwarranted criticism. But, the mere existence of such a political motivation does not preclude the possibility that a particular criticism being made about a candidate or incumbent is fair and valid.
Even in a court of law, evidence showing a witness is biased does not prevent the judge (in a nonjury trial), or the jury, from considering the testimony given by the biased witness. The judge or jury: (1) should carefully consider what weight, if any, they will give to the biased witness’ testimony, but (2) a conclusion that a witness is biased does not preclude the judge or jury from considering and giving weight to any part of the biased witness’ testimony that is supported or corroborated by other credible evidence in the trial record. Sometimes credible and truthful testimony is given by witnesses whose motivation is not disinterested, public spirited, or civic-minded.
Claiming that a criticism is a “politically motivated attack” does not respond to the criticism in any meaningful way. It does not deny the criticism; it does not refute the criticism; and it does not address whether or not the substance of the criticism is relevant, reasonable, and fair. When a candidate or incumbent only responds to criticism by insisting it is a “politically motivated attack,” such a response strongly suggests the candidate or incumbent is being evasive and is unwilling or unable to respond to the substance of the criticism. After all, there is no good reason for an incumbent or candidate to fail to respond to a criticism if he or she can show how or why the criticism is (a) irrelevant, (b) unfair or unreasonable, (c) not supported by relevant facts, (d) not supported by relevant law, (e) based on flawed reasoning, or (f) some combination of these.
Furthermore, dodging a criticism by claiming it is a “politically motivated attack” is antithetical to the notion that voters have the right to be informed about the record, actions, and policy positions of a candidate running for office or incumbent running for re-election. Any candidate or incumbent unwilling or unable to address a criticism against him or her is showing no respect for the voters, and no respect for the electoral process. Candidates or incumbents who hide behind a claim that a criticism of them is a “politically motivated attack” are being evasive about explaining and defending themselves. Voters should not cast their vote for any candidate or incumbent who is evasive and unwilling to respond to criticisms about their records, their actions, or their policy positions.