Candidate’s suicide may link to smear tactics

Sometimes the hateful words that slither out of people’s mouths are shocking.

But what ought to keep us up at night is the silence that often follows — the way that listeners ignore, or fail to compose themselves to answer, the harmful things that others say.

So as the nation’s eyes are looking with consternation at Missouri, the truth deserves admitting. A candidate could be undercut in some circles by the insinuation that he is not a good Christian. In 2015, sad to say, there are still people in my home state and 49 others who would not vote for a candidate because he or she is Jewish.

And these unfortunate people are registered voters and may be your coworker or neighbor. I’ve heard them. I’ve challenged them in conversations. They exist.

That truth has to be acknowledged as Missouri is rocked by news of the suicide death of the state auditor and gubernatorial hopeful, Tom Schweich.

Schweich. Think the name sounds Jewish? As it happens, this father of two was an Episcopalian. His grandfather was Jewish, a man who reportedly told his grandson never to shrink from challenging any instance of anti-Semitism.

Apparently, that is what Schweich believed he faced in his campaign for governor. Schweich killed himself with a gun at his home in suburban St. Louis on Thursday morning. He’d called select reporters for a press conference, reportedly to accuse the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party of smearing him by suggesting he was Jewish.

This is no Democrat- Republican feud. Schweich was a member of the GOP, and headed for a contested primary against a well-funded candidate, the former speaker of the house. As auditor, he was especially suited to make good on his threat to expose the outsized influence of big-donor money in Missouri politics.

The full truth of what was haunting Schweich will never be known. The GOP chair has denied any malign intentions. At the most, he says, he might have mentioned Schweich’s religion — or, rather, the religion he falsely assigned to Schweich – in passing.

Even if Schweich’s suspicions about a whispering campaign have merit — and nobody at this point, frankly, can say that they do — is it fair to accuse his adversaries of driving him to suicide? Certainly not. Something else, perhaps a mental health condition, was surely afoot as well. As many have remarked, it simply makes no sense that a belief about such a rumor would cause such a desperate act.

Still, to get a taste of the loathsomeness of Schweich’s enemies, take in the transcript of this radio advertisement that began running against him recently.

“Elections have consequences. Tom Schweich, like him? No. Is he a weak candidate for governor? Absolutely, just look at him. He could be easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry.

“Schweich is an obviously weaker opponent against Democrat Chris Koster. Once Schweich obtains the Republican nomination, we will quickly squash him like a bug that he is and put our candidate, Chris Koster, in the governor’s mansion.”

Chris Koster is a Democrat, but don’t be fooled. This ad, sponsored by the so-called Citizens For Fairness, is a Republican job on one of their own.

Politics, as they say, ain’t beanbag. But this is blood sport. It’s fair to ask why we permit it to go on, this politics of very personal assassination. Who benefits? It sure isn’t the people.

Tom Schweich is being eulogized as a brilliant man, a trusted chief of staff to three U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, a dutiful public servant who led anti-drug work in Afghanistan. His mind also apparently believed that his grandfather’s Jewishness could be used as a tool to keep him from winning the governor’s office.

Let’s hope that he was wrong about the extent that this was being done behind his back. But let’s also remember the vileness with which members of his own party treated him. Challenging and changing this destructive approach to politics would be a fitting legacy by which to remember this dedicated public servant.