The problem with Steve Krieg’s characterization of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik as “a little girl” is not primarily that it’s sexist, which it is, but that it’s childish, amateurish, boorish and vague. It’s puerile.
Krieg is following the example being set by our president, Donald Trump, whose actions and statements continue to astonish with their raw resentment, lack of nuance and scattershot anger.
Krieg is running against Stefanik in the 21st District, and if we’ve learned anything from Trump, it is that we should beware of this sort of loose cannon who transmutes a legitimate critique — Stefanik is overly cautious and too well-rehearsed — into a series of playground taunts.
“I intend to kick your stingy, money-grubbing, sniveling coward of a butt out of Congress. Don’t worry, sweetie, you’re a little girl. You can always run home to Mommy and Daddy.”
Krieg wrote that on Stefanik’s Facebook page in July.
Then, during a candidates forum last week, he “clarified” his remarks.
“I see her as a child because she’s a child. She thinks like a child. She has people set things up for her. She has people put their words in her mouth and she happily repeats them,” he said.
A longtime Republican, Krieg switched to the Democratic Party to run against Stefanik. Following a backlash after his remarks at the forum, he said he was withdrawing from the Democratic Party and would run as an independent.
His party is irrelevant. What I’m concerned with is his presentation.
He chooses to put himself forward as a mean-mouthed bully, a guy who goes on his opponent’s Facebook page so he can call her names and threaten to kick her butt, a man who restates his offensive attack when given the chance to retract it.
These are the politics that Trump has perfected, if that word can be applied to something so crude. This is the baseball bat school of political debate.
It’s dangerous. It is not simply a matter of saying the same thing — “overly cautious” — in different words — “sniveling coward.” It’s rude and uncontrolled. It shows a lack of decorum and a lack of discipline.
Style is substance, particularly in politics. A bullying, mean-spirited style will be reflected in callous, selfish policies, and we have seen that with the Trump presidency.
We don’t tolerate crude behavior in other realms. No one acts that way in the grocery store. But with Trump as a carrier, the crass and hectoring speech that established itself on social media — where the speakers could safely snipe at others from a distance — has infected our politics.
Now an unknown candidate from Plattsburgh is using it to stand out from a crowded field of Stefanik opponents. The key ingredient to this sort of strategy, whether it’s Trump or Krieg, is that the abuse contains a grain of truth, and it gets justified on that basis, both by the person who said it and his supporters.
But a drop of truth does not justify a bucketful of offensiveness, and the ability to hurl insults that hurt is more of a disqualification than a recommendation for serving in elected office.
We’ve seen chaos, incompetence and cruelty in our national politics since Trump was elected president. I hope we can avoid that closer to home.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at [email protected] and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at @trafficstatic.