Gov. Robert Bentley pleads that, of course, he didn't close dozens of drivers license offices in majority black counties because he racist. House Speaker Mike Hubbard proclaims that his criminal indictments are politically motivated. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accuses anyone who expresses concern over her casual use of personal emails for important national security work as simply resorting to politics as usual.
It's become almost a kneejerk reaction for public figures who are being challenged for their actions to attack the motivations of others as part of their defense, or to defend those actions because their motivations were as pure as new fallen snow.
For those politicians who resort to these tactics, we suggest a visit to a down-home eatery on U.S. 331 south of Montgomery -- the It Don't Matter Restaurant. Because often in politics, motivations don't matter very much.
The no-frills (and grammar challenged) It Don't Matter Restaurant is so named because its owner wanted diners to focus on what really matters -- the food. Similarly, Alabamians should focus not on what politicians actually did or didn't do, not so much on their claims of bad motivations on the part of their critics or pure motivations of their own.
For example, take Hubbard and the ongoing hearings in his criminal ethics case.
Hubbard is claiming that he is being targeted because of politics. It would be easy for Alabamians to get wrapped up in the back-and-forth claims and counterclaims over whether prosecutors have it in for Hubbard. That has to matter to some degree in criminal court, I guess.
But in the court of public opinion, Alabamians should focus on what really matters: 1. Hubbard wrote some sleazy emails in which he made it clear he was more focused on money than doing his job; 2. In defending himself, Hubbard is trying to undermine improvements to the state Ethics Act which may be the biggest accomplishment of the House Republicans who Hubbard was supposed to lead.
Those emails and his attack on the Ethics Act are what matters. No matter the outcome of his criminal trial, Hubbard has no business holding the office of House speaker.
Then there is Bentley and his closing of 31 driver's license offices, several of which serve predominantly black counties. Bentley said it was all a matter of finances and saving money, and that he was in no way motivated by racism or the desire to make it more difficult for blacks to vote.
"As far as voting rights, this has nothing to do with that," Bentley said of the closings.
Oh, but it does. And Bentley's motivations don't change the effects of his action. (Bentley has since ordered the offices to reopen, although for just one day a month.) Republicans in the state Legislature have passed a strong voter identification law. In defending that law, Bentley and other Republicans have pointed out that voters can easily get state-issued IDs at driver's license offices. That argument inextricably ties the closings of offices in majority black, majority Democratic counties to the issue of voting rights.
To federal courts where such issues often wind up, it will be the effects of the changes that matter, not Bentley's motivations, no matter how pure.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton weighed in on the driver's license closings as a sound-bite in her presidential campaign. But Clinton has her own motivation vs. outcome problem.
Republicans in Congress have attacked Clinton over her use of a private email server for official business while she was U.S. secretary of state, pointing out that it was not as secure as official email servers and that it could make it easier for foreign interests to access critical information.
Clinton, in turn, has defended her actions as being motivated by a desire for convenience (probably true) and her Republican critics as being motivated by politics (certainly true in many cases).
All that makes for great news commentaries, but at the heart of the matter is one simple fact: Clinton's actions on emails involving State Department business were not in the best interests of national security. In fact, they were just dumb. Motivations or even the argument that others did it first do not change that.
When political figures -- Republican or Democrat -- start talking about their motivations or the motivations of their critics in defending a controversial action, there is a very good chance they are just trying to distract the public and news media from what really matters.
In politics, often -- not always, but often -- motivations really don't matter.
Ken Hare is a longtime editorial writer and newspaper editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at email@example.com.
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