As attentive readers of this establishment know, there’s a big fight going on over the issue of alcohol distribution in Montgomery County. The chief advocate for change has been Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is advocating for a bill to open up the County’s monopoly on alcohol distribution. Among the many opponents of such a change is MCGEO, the union representing the Department of Liquor Control’s over 300 unionized employees.
There are arguments on both sides of the issue – I’m squarely on the side of retaining the current system, with modifications to allow for private distributors to be part of the special order process. The County Council, the County Council, the union, and others agree. On the other side are several state legislators and the Comptroller who are pushing different versions of a privatization bill in the state legislature, as well as some restaurant and bar owners.
Peter Franchot’s chief of staff, Len Foxwell, decided yesterday that he wasn’t interested in a debate on the issues. He launched an attack on Gino Renne, the head of MCGEO, regarding an incident from more than five years ago that had and has no bearing whatsoever on the alcohol issue.
An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”, short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attack on an argument made by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the argument directly. When used inappropriately, it is a logical fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized.
Foxwell’s Facebook post is one of the purest forms of ad hominem attack that I’ve seen in many years of state and county politics.
Let’s note that Foxwell isn’t some guy on the street – he’s Peter Franchot’s chief of staff. So this was an attack authorized by one of Maryland’s four statewide elected officials on the leader of a union who represents more than 300 workers with a personal stake in the outcome of this debate. Foxwell thinks it’s OK to marginalize the interests of workers with good jobs and good pay by scoring cheap and irrelevant political points. Moreover, he clearly believes that discussing the merits of the issue isn’t as important as a good ad hominem assault.
Not sure if Foxwell is a lawyer or not, but I am, and I recognize a guy with a bad argument – and who knows it – when I see one. Old trial lawyer saying: “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. And when neither one is on your side, pound the table.”
Len Foxwell pounded the table yesterday. Remember that when you’re told what a great idea alcohol privatization is. If the primary proponent of an idea abandons the merits of that idea when the conversation has barely begun, that ought to tell you something.