The character of Fred Clark

Most of us have been told that character is what you do when no one’s watching. (Or so you think.)

So what can we say (according to the state GOP) about Rep. Fred Clark (D–Baraboo)?

Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo), running in a recall election against Senator Luther Olsen, was caught on tape last week saying he would like to “smack around” a woman in his district.

The comment was recorded on the home answering machine of Sue and John Stapelman of Baraboo.  Clark phoned the family while making campaign calls, and had a short, curt conversation with Sue Stapelman.  Stapelman then hung up the phone, but her answering machine was still rolling, and caught Clark saying, “I feel like calling her back and smacking her around.”

The GOP helpfully (where is that sarcasm emoticon?) included a transcript and MP3 file of the phone call:

[Answering machine picks up the call, then Sue Stapelman picks up phone]
SS: “Yes”
FC: “Hi, this, uh, Ms. Stapelton?”
SS: “Yes it is.”
FC: “Hi, this is Representative Fred Clark.”
SS: “Ok.”
FC: “Yes, I just want to give you and John a call again tonight.  You may know I’m running against Luther Olsen here in the recall election in the 14th Senate District.”
SS: “Yeah, isn’t that a crime.” [hangs up]
[Answering machine still recording]
FC: “Ok.  I feel like calling her back and smacking her around.”

This news came out Monday afternoon, and I sent a tweet saying “Explain this, Fred.” Which seems like a reasonable request coming from one of his would-be constituents, right? (As of Monday night, when I wrote this, there was no answer.)

I did, however, receive three Twitter responses, each followed by my response of more than 140 characters:

Right after you explain Sen.Fitz calling people “goof-fuckers.”

I do not need to explain or defend anything Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says. That’s because I’m not one of his constituents. Whatever he called the Capitol protesters (according to one report, “long haired goof fuckers”), he has the same First Amendment rights as his critics. (And I suspect his critics are exaggerating their sense of offense, given the four-, seven-, 10- and 12-letter comments I’ve read about coming from said protesters.) The more important distinction that appears to have escaped the aforementioned tweeter is that Fitzgerald’s comment didn’t threaten violence against a specific individual; Clark’s comment was about a specific individual, and I suspect police have at least investigated comments of that nature when brought to their attention.

If #GOP was concerned about domestic violence, they wouldn’t be cutting $ for victims programs

This is a two-headed argument: First, that your commitment toward any political issue is based on how much money you want to spend on it. That may be how it works in politics, but it certainly helps explain our state’s multi-billion-dollar deficit, doesn’t it? It is also a corollary to those who defended the extramarital behavior of the late U.S. Sen Ted Kennedy and President Bill Clinton by arguing that they were committed to women’s rights. (To the first, to quote the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, Mary Jo Kopechne was unavailable for comment.)

And then …

Problem with recording is that it isn’t Fred’s voice making those extra comments. Its a man on a diff. phone extension in house.

This would be the local variation of the Anthony Weiner my-Twitter-account-was-hacked-and-how-do-you-know-that’s-my-weiner-anyway excuse.

I have listened to the MP3 several times. Feel free to do so yourself


I am not a sound engineer, but the person who felt “like calling her back and smacking her around” sounds to me like the same person who “just want[ed] to give you and John a call again tonight.” I had a landline long enough to know that just because you think you’ve hung up doesn’t mean you have. (Which is not an issue with a cellphone based on my experience; once you hit End, you have ended.) Obviously the Stapelmans have a landline since they have an answering machine. And obviously this is not a robocall, since no robocall I’ve ever heard referred to the recipient by first names.

So how does this change my opinion of Red Fred? Actually, it doesn’t, politically speaking. (Personally, well, to paraphrase a couple of Facebook comments, had Clark referred to my wife in that fashion, he and I would be having a very one-sided conversation … not that she needs my defense given that she castrated animals while in the Peace Corps.) There are plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with his classless phone etiquette to oppose Clark. My one political campaign experience of leafletting at parades and going door-to-door — not to mention common sense — says that when you run into an opponent, as you undoubtedly will, you simply thank  them and move on. Clark has absolutely no standing to complain about being caught saying something he should never have said, since, as we all know, politics ain’t beanbag.

At absolute minimum, Clark owes an apology to the Stapelmans specifically and all of the voters of the 14th Senate District generally. He should not throw out such excuses as the high emotions of the day and the vital stakes of this campaign getting control of his judgment, blah blah blah; simply put, he was wrong, what he said was inexcusable under any circumstances, and he’s sorry. Pulling out of the campaign because he should wait to run anyway until Olsen’s term expires after the November 2012 election would be too much to ask, I suppose.


3 thoughts on “The character of Fred Clark

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