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Did President Bush Have Ken Lay Murdered?

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Enron founder Ken Lay, facing a possible life term for fraud and conspiracy in one of the largest financial scams in U.S. history, died early Wednesday morning of an "apparent heart attack."

Condolences to his family, but...

If this had happened during the Clinton administration, and Lay had been Clinton's primary financial patron, don't you think that right-wingers would be all abuzz today with conspiracy theories about how Clinton had Lay knocked off to keep him from talking? You just know they would.

Sure, we've already seen suspicions raised in the comment threads of liberal blogs, but no real effort will be made to push this theory and no "serious" journalist would ever take it seriously, except as an opportunity to ridicule the generic "left." We won't see any books or documentaries devoted to the suspicious circumstances surrounding Lay's death, no hour-long rants from liberal talk radio hosts, and no provocative evening news teases drumming the conspiracy into the American consciousness, a la the unfortunate Vince Foster.

And I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

The GOP's right-wing surrogates doggedly pursue vicious conspiracy theories like this because it works. Every paranoid fantasy or mean-spirited swift-boating serves to chip away at a politician's public standing as voters inevitably if reluctantly -- even unconsciously -- subscribe to the "where there's smoke there's fire" school of character judgement.

As a Democrat I suppose I should be proud that my party tends to shy away from such wacky, over-the-top character assassination -- you know, like characterizing a war hero who left three limbs on the battlefield as a coward and a traitor. But I'm not so sure it's good strategy. If we hope to compete, I'm not so sure we can afford to reject even the vilest of Karl Rove's tactics.

Republicans have proven again and again that heartless, shameless slander can help win elections. Which of course raises the question: did President Bush have Ken Lay murdered using some poison that mimics a heart attack? Inquiring minds want to know.