By Ruth Conniff
Tommy Thompson took a page from Mitt Romney in his second debate with Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin race for U.S. Senate, jumping in, interrupting, even scoffing as Tammy Baldwin talked in her soft-spoken, detailed way.
"You want to interrupt me, Joe Biden?" Tommy demanded angrily during one exchange. The audience groaned.
After Tommy went on the attack, calling Tammy weak on sanctions against Iran, Tammy pointed out that Tommy owned stock in a company that helps Iran extract uranium in Africa--a fact she called "shocking"
Tommy's rejoinder: "I sold it today."
The studio audience actually laughed.
Thompson had as much as $15,000 invested in the Rio Tinto mining concern, which has been mining uranium in Namibia with partner Iran, as well as up to $17,000 in Royal Dutch Shell, which also does business with Iran according to press reports about his personal financial statements.
Thompson claimed not to know about the investments, which he quickly shed the same day as the debate.
Tommy mangled an attack on Tammy's position on Iran: Baldwin has taken almost $60,000 from an organization called the Council for a Living Earth that opposes sanctions on Iran.
"Whatever you're saying, I have no idea what you're talking about," Tammy replied.
Tommy repeated the name, pointedly, and insisted that it was front-page news in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and that the group was one of Tammy's major contributors. The accusation fell flat, as Tammy seemed genuinely not to know what he was talking about.
Tommy's attack was factual--he just mangled the name of the group.
The Council for a Livable World, a venerable peace group, has supported hundreds of politicians since the early 1960s, when it was founded to combat the threat of nuclear war and arms proliferation.
The group has, according to investigative reporter Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, donated or passed along $59,902 to Baldwin in the last year and a half.
It has supported her throughout her career--not surprisingly, as she has been a lifelong advocate for peace, and opposed the war in Iraq. Other Council-supported politicians include progressive Dems Dennis Kucinich and Sherrod Brown.
The group does oppose U.S. sanctions on Iran, suggesting that they are ineffective, inhumane, and could have the unintended consequence of bringing to power Iranian hardliners.
"Most Iran specialists, including nationally recognized experts at the Center, believe that the main factor driving Iran's interest in nuclear technology - be it civilian or military - is national pride. Unfortunately, United States policy has been to publicly threaten and insult Iran while taking provocative actions such as adopting a policy of regime change, attempting to increase unilateral sanctions, deploying additional military assets in the region, and arresting Iranian representatives in Iraq. Such policies are counterproductive, strengthening Iranian hardliners and weakening the position of anti-nuclear and pro-democracy elements in Iran.
But Baldwin's voting record on Iran sanctions is mixed. In recent months she has voted to strengthen the Obama Administration's sanctions policy. In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, she also supported sanctions. But she took four votes in Congress opposing sanctions, which Thompson and other Republicans call irresponsible."
Baldwin herself has a mixed record on Iran sanctions. She voted for sanctions on Iran in 2001, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, but opposed four more recent sanctions efforts in Congress. Recently, while running for the Senate, she has voted to strenghten the Obama Administration's Iran sanctions.
On health care, perhaps the biggest issue in the race, Baldwin talked about Thompson's role in creating Medicare Part D's "sweetheart deal" for drug companies.
Thompson interrupted her: “Keep talking, but the truth of the matter is why don’t you tell the truth?”
“I am telling the truth,” Baldwin replied.
While Tammy gave detailed policy answers, Tommy repeatedly brought up the Packers and beer.
Tommy had to answer a question on his line "Who better than me to do away with Medicare and Medicaid?"
Tammy had to answer the charge that she is "for a government takeover of health care."
Tommy's response: he wants to "preserve, protect, and improve Medicare"--by keeping it the same for people over 55, and introducing a menu of private insurance options for those who reach retirement age later.
Tammy invoked her grandparents, and said she'd preserve Medicare, not turn it into a voucher program.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Joe Biden's Class Act."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter