Conservative Bloggers Attack Reed Alumna, Congressional Candidate Suzan DelBene
During a particularly tight political race in Washington this fall, the media has pulled out all the stops in getting dirt on candidates. Unfortunately, multiple conservative bloggers have taken to criticizing Suzan DelBene – Reed trustee and alumna – by using her affiliation to the College as a means of attacking her candidacy. Running as a Democratic candidate for Washington’s eighth congressional district this year, DelBene’s ties to Reed have been the subject of much excoriation from the Republican community.
The two most inflammatory blogs, RedState.com and RedCounty.com, both stated that DelBene failed to cite her involvement as a member on the Board of Trustees at Reed in her official website biography or on her Wikipedia entry. Believing that this implied something suspicious, bloggers Moe Lane and Bryan Myrick set out to unveil the reason behind what Lane called the “curious omission.”
Though a representative for Delbene could not be reached for comment, the official statements on her website do include her affiliation to Reed; while they are not heavily emphasized, they are most certainly mentioned. Regardless, what Myrick and Lane uncovered through their research appears to primarily be the now-infamous Willamette Weekly article from 2008, “Higher Ed,” by James Pitkin.
Citing the piece as a primary source, Lane and Myrick uncovered that DelBene was connected to “arguably one of the most permissive colleges in America when it comes to illegal drug use.”
“Every drug dealer in Oregon considers the school to be a personal ATM,” writes Lane. Focusing on the highly-publicized tragic deaths of Alex Lluch and Sam Tepper, Lane writes “It’s unclear whether [Alex] was or was not listed as a dropout in the school’s graduation rate; but it is clear that said heroin death (which, by the way, took place while Suzan Delbene was a member of the Board of Trustees) did not stop a drug-soaked annual event known as ‘Renn Fayre.’”
Myrick also emphasizes the controversy surrounding Reed’s reputation as a place (in Myrick’s words) “notorious…for harboring – some would say cultivating – in the student body a culture of experimentation with mind-altering substances.” Citing a recent case at Central Washington University, in which nine students suffered from overdoses during a mass date-rape attempt at a college party, Myrick asks readers: “Did an atmosphere of tolerance regarding drug use – explicit or implied – contribute to the willingness of dozens of young women to drink whatever was being passed around?”
While Myrick uses this question as a lead into a post about drug tolerance policies, the actual CWU incident involved students being involuntarily administered Rohypnol (commonly known as “roofies”) by other students; the case was unrelated to recreational drug use. Nonetheless, Myrick goes on to insist that Reed’s “practice of technically complying with laws regarding reporting of drug use and paraphernalia by having college employees tactically look the other way to avoid finding such actionable items” is a matter of serious concern and reflects negatively on DelBene’s character.
“As a congresswoman, DelBene would have a vote on setting drug policy for more than just the 1,300 young adults, but for millions of Americans,” writes Myrick.
Reed’s administration has been, understandably, upset by the attacks. Still reeling from the intense scrutiny the institution has experienced in the past few years, this additional slander, while factually inconsistent and questionable, has still caused much headache.
“We have not had many trustees run for political office [before],” says Hugh Porter, Vice President for College Relations. Still, he attributes the blog vilification as something to be accepted as “just one of the things that happen to you when you run for office in this country now.”
“In this election, people are reaching deep into their opponents biography to find something to beat them with,” says Porter.
Alluding to the recent ‘Aqua Buddha’ case with Rand Paul, Porter says that the DelBene debacle is really “just the result of the political season.” Paul, a Senate candidate in Kentucky, recently received heat from his opponents when a victim of a prank he conducted in college came forward to divulge the details of her decidedly odd experience. Blindfolded, tied up, and driven to the countryside outside of Waco, Texas, where Paul attended college at Baylor University, the woman was made to bow down and worship a made-up deity Paul and his accomplice called the “Aqua Buddha.”
Using this information, Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway, centered a television advertisement for his campaign around how the incident discredited Paul’s claims to be a Christian, asking viewers: When is it ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol, your god, which you call ‘Aqua Buddha’?”
“I think what’s going on with Suzan has very little to do with her service to Reed College. I think it’s really the result of the internet,” says Porter. “You can find out all these random facts about people and reassemble them to create a story you want to tell.”
So is the college going to take action to take the heat off Reed? “Well, we’d love to get Reed out of any negative spotlight, but that’s hard to do…I don’t think spending a lot of time talking about drug use at Reed is a terribly productive thing,” says Porter. “People bring their issues to campus, just as they do in other places, and we have a good program for helping people manage those choices. But we can’t stamp out all alcohol and illegal drug use on the Reed campus. It’s not achievable for any institution.”
The depiction of Suzan as what Porter calls a “thoughtless, liberal-leaning person” is really more or less “another opportunity for the press to feast on a negative event in Reed’s history.” The primary concern of the college is, now, exercising damage control and heightened caution.
“[The critics are] not interested in a conversation about drug use and abuse. They’re really more interested in Reed being a symbol of libertine-ism,” says Porter. “We all need to understand what a microscope we’re under right now, so the best thing we can do is behave well as a community – take care of each other, because if something goes wrong again in a public way, we’re going to be all over the national news.”