By JOHN NICHOLS | The Capital Times

Memo to Tommy Thompson: When you make an intellectually dishonest attack on an opponent for taking money from a 50-year-old mainstream political group, at least get the name of the group right.

During Thursday night’s U.S. Senate debate, Republican Tommy Thompson attacked Democrat Tammy Baldwin for accepting support from the “Council for a Living Earth.”

Baldwin replied: “I’ve never heard of the Council for a Living Earth.”

And, of course, she was right.

There is no Council for a Living Earth.

There is a Council for a Livable World.

That’s the group that has backed Baldwin, and that Thompson was trying to attack.

But Tommy often misspeaks.

Let’s get to the substance of the attack.

Thompson seems to think the Council for a Livable World — which for five decades has worked to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and increase national security — is a very scary group. Why? Because the council supports diplomacy to try to discourage the development of nuclear weapons in Iran.

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, that’s the most popular position with American voters.

While 81 percent of Americans want “direct diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran to try to resolve the situation,” 74 percent support “increasing international economic sanctions against Iran” and just 41 percent favor “the United States bombing Iran’s nuclear development sites.”

So the council’s emphasis on diplomacy is hardly irrational. The same goes for its questioning of whether ill-thought-out sanctions might harm prospects for effective diplomacy — and perhaps increase tensions.

That may explain why former U.S. ambassadors and retired military commanders serve as council directors and advisory board members.

That may also explain why so many Republicans have enjoyed the council’s support — including former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and former Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker, who in the 1970s was Ronald Reagan’s pick for Republican vice presidential nominee.

Vice President Joseph Biden, another former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, was elected with council support, as was Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin was elected with the support of the council, as was former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin, who went on to become the secretary of Defense.

The council’s work has been embraced and encouraged by presidents and political leaders of both parties, and it has played a critical role in promoting the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

So why was Thompson attacking an organization he could not even accurately name?

It was a desperate political stunt by an out-of-touch candidate who thinks that Wisconsinites can be fooled into believing there is something wrong with the Council for a Livable World, and with Baldwin accepting its support.

In fact, the support she has received from the Council for a Livable World ought to cause Wisconsinites to consider Tammy Baldwin’s Senate candidacy more seriously. And to ask why Tommy Thompson doesn’t have the council’s support.

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