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The worst political ad

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010



Ever since the 1988 presidential campaign, when the Republicans successfully slimed Michael Dukakis as a wuss who polluted Boston Harbor and allowed black rapists to roam free, Democrats have been trying to figure out how best to fight back. Should they turn the other cheek and seek to beat the GOP by articulating superior arguments grounded in substance – or should they get down in the mud, where lies and half-truths flourish, and seek to beat the GOP at its own game?

Alan Grayson, a congressional freshman and a frequent cable news show flamer, has clearly chosen the latter approach. Many liberals love it when he trash-talks Republicans. For instance, here’s how he described Dick Cheney last year on MSNBC’s Hardball: “I have trouble listening to what he says sometimes, because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he’s talking….By the way, when he was done speaking, did he just then turn into a bat and fly away?” (Host Chris Matthews’ response: “Oh, God, we’ve got to keep it level here.”)

The problem, however, is that the central-Florida Democrat, currently locked in a tight re-election race in a swing district, has now produced what is arguably the most blatantly distorted TV ad of the autumn election season. Grayson may be a hero in some liberal quarters, but his willful flight from factual reality is decidedly unheroic.

In other words, Democrats who typically assail Fox News for its frequent distortions, and Democrats who well remember how a quadriplegic war hero, Senator Max Cleland, was slimed in ’02 Republican TV ads as soft on Osama bin Laden, might be wise to ask themselves why they should excuse the same kind of behavior in their own ranks.

Maybe you’ve already heard about Grayson’s “Taliban Dan” ad. If not, suffice it to say that you don’t have to be a fan of right-wing Republican candidate Dan Webster in order to conclude that he has been egregiously slimed.

Here’s the short version: Grayson put up a TV ad claiming that his opponent is Talibanesque about women and marriage. The ad shows a video clip of Webster saying, “Wives, submit yourself to your own husband.” Seconds later, Webster is saying, “You should submit to me, that’s in the Bible.” And twice more, the ad has Webster saying, “Submit to me.”

Those video clips were taken from a talk that Webster delivered last year to a religious organization. And it turns out that what he actually said was precisely the opposite of what the Grayson ad depicted him as saying.

Webster contended in his talk that couples should look to the Bible for advice on how best to conduct their marriage. For instance, he said, “I have verses for my wife. Don’t pick the ones that say, ‘she should submit to me.’ That’s in the Bible, but pick the ones you’re supposed to do. So instead, that you’d love your wife, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it…as opposed to ‘wives submit yourself to your own husband.’ She can pray that if she wants to, but don’t you pray it.”

“Don’t pick the ones that say, ‘she should submit to me.'” There you have it. The whole thrust of his advice was that a good marriage should not hinge on wifely submission. Grayson’s ad team plucked a few words and twisted their meaning, with the intent to sow irrational fear among female voters.

Some of the claims that drift across the bottom of the screen are almost as bad. While the Republican candidate is depicted intoning “submit to me,” the ad says that “Dan Webster wants to make divorce illegal.” The implication is that Webster currently wants to ban divorce for all Floridians. Grayson’s evidence for such a claim? A Florida House bill that Webster submitted, as a state legislator…20 years ago.

And the bill itself did not propose to make divorce illegal; rather, it sought to offer a new option for religiously devout couples, a “covenant marriage,” under which divorces could be granted only for adultery. The key word was option. And the bill never came up for a vote anyway. And congressmen in Washington have no influence over state marriage laws anyway.

Christopher Sprinkle, a liberal filmmaker, sought on Sunday to defend Grayson’s tactics (in part because he’s planning to do a documentary about Grayson). Writing on The Huffington Post, he acknowledged: “I know Republicans have been using these tactics for ages; we only have to go back a few weeks to remember what Andrew Breitbart did to Shirley Sherrod.”

Nevertheless, Sprinkle insisted, “the problem is not with Grayson, but rather the left. For too long, we – myself included – have been too soft when it comes to politics. We don’t even have the backbone to push through Congress the issues we, as liberals, are most passionate about. This, while we control the White House, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate. We can’t do it precisely because we’re too afraid to ruffle some feathers. Alan Grayson likes ruffling feathers.”

So, thanks to Grayson’s manifest inventiveness, we now have a new riff on an old political conundrum: Is it necessary to sell one’s soul, to behave in the most Machiavellian fashion, in order to win? And, if so, what does that say about the (ill) health of our civic sphere?


51 Comments

  • p-diddy says:

    I think Grayson is a clown. Who is this ad supposed to appeal to? Democrats? But a much worse ad is being run by North Carolina GOP congressional candidate Renee Ellmers. It’s a blatantly bigoted, fear mongering, anti-Muslim ad, the sort that reminds me of Tom Tancredo. Ellmers was interviewed on CNN and made a complete fool of herself when asked about the ad.

  • puttinonthefoil says:

    “I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.” – Bush political operative speaking about the damage their sneak-tactics would cause to McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary. The point? It’s not a Democrat vs. Republican issue but a political issue in general. Why do it? By all means go ahead and read the comments section on news sites (Yahoo AP/Reuters being the worst) and you will see how many dumb-dumbs are out there saying crazy stuff. It’s truly frightening. These are the people who fall for these tactics. I agree with those who “refudiate” them. The question is – is there any part of the electorate that condones this behavior? I’d be interested in seeing the honest answer to that. If I were to guess, I’d say hardcore party faithful of either stripe would be more sympathetic since it’s more about a “win the game” mentailty than cooperative politics. I hate this mentality so much that I cringe every time I see a political bumper sticker.

  • swedesboromike says:

    Still ” Independent ” – you said ” swedesboromike: draw from her remarks what you wish ………. ” Still Independent “mmmmm- The arrogance of Nancy Pelosi to tell the American people that the bill must be passed so we can see what is in it is beyond the pale. In the spirit of openess and transparancy where were the C-span cameras and the spirit of bipartisanship? Good luck in the mid-terms mr. ” Independent “

    • tom - wilmington, de says:

      The quote is in context, since she was speaking about the healthcare bill with the other items of Obama’s agenda, his three pronged strategy to spur jobs and economic growth (which is working out splendidly, wouldn’t you say?). There is no other context with which that quote can be taken. If there is, kindly point it out.

      • tom - wilmington, de says:

        Besides, 3M recently found out what is in the bill, and they are going to stop offering health insurance to their retirees in 2013.

    • F. Inahoy says:

      “Context” is a magic word that absolves one all sins, especially if you’re a democrat. For example: “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy” really means that I’m a wonderful politician who is looking out for your best interests because your to stupid to do so for yourself. See, that’s “context.”

  • Rich says:

    Pertinent to the subject – I just saw a new ad from Sestak suggesting that Pat Toomey likes to send jobs to China, so maybe he should be running for Senator from China. Now perhaps that makes the grade of being hard-hitting but (at least technically) truthful…gotta like Sestak’s style, anyway! Worked on Specter. Go Joe!

    • swedesboromike says:

      how did Toomey send jobs to China?

      • tom - wilmington, de says:

        swede, don’t you know that he didn’t support the recent “end outsourcing” bill that just failed in the Senate? Also, he said that when a business fails, it creates new opportunities for other businesses to prosper, but those businesses are in China (according to Sestak). See, Toomey creates jobs in China. Silly boy.

      • Rick says:

        He wrote a book called i believe “Path to Prosperity” .In the book he says we should be glad that China subsidizes their mfg companies , because that makes us able to buy cheap goods.How asinine an approach is that?.The United States has run a trade deficit for 3 decades it has destroyed our middle class.

  • swedesboromike says:

    Nigel- you asked ” Are you against Americorps?”………….. Not at all so long as it is voluntary community service. But when it characterized as possibly becoming mandatory or charaterized by Obama as a ” civilian army ” then it starts to sound a lot like operatives in service of the DNC. Back to the point I was making is that Grayson’s campaign ads are downright lies so comparing Grayson to political rhetoric from Bachmann is a poor comparison. Same thing as comparing Grayson political ad to ones that portrayed Cleeland as soft on terror or national defense. One’s military service does not insulate a political candidate from the “soft on defense charge. ” All of this is a very poor comparison to Grayson’s campaign add. Grayson is more like Breitbart, with the difference being I would expect a little more from a sitting congressman than an internet blogger.

    • JimR says:

      Military service doesn’t insulate one from the “soft on defense ” charge but it does cause one to choke when it’s made by leadership who promoted the “strong on defense” position of draft dodgers.

      • swedesboromike says:

        I’m sorry. Who was a draft dodger?

        • JimR says:

          Cheny and Bush were both draft dodgers. Cheny used his umpteen deferrments and Bush had the ‘well connected ‘ deferrment,to get National Guard service.(we’ve already gone the ‘butwhatabout’ Clinton route- yes, he was also) But Clinton didn’t point his finger at a guy who served.

        • swedesboromike says:

          And why is this relevant? Moving forward the moss is growing fat on the Vietnam era politician. so the issue of draft doging , deferrments will no longer be an issue

  • Logathis says:

    The ends never justify the means.

    • F. Inahoy says:

      Nancy Pelosi: “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

      • Logathis says:

        A completely apt comparison. NOT. Cherry-picking out of context quotes about complex issues to fit an idealogical end. Sounds like deceptive means to gain a rhetorical/political end. Thanks for proving my point with your means.

        • NigeltheMastiff says:

          Stillindependence’s link certainly proves the point that we should look at everything at the source and within context. When you read the speech, the quote certainly changes meaning a bit. Conservatives still won’t agree, but the context does change the meaning some.

      • Rich says:

        I have seen that quote posted here at least a dozen times by different dittohead idiots. The only positive thing I can say about stuff like that is that it makes it obvious they are just repeating things they have been told to repeat, without understanding anything.

        • swedesboromike says:

          OK Rich, so when Nancy Pelosi says ” we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it ” what does this mean? Please enlighten us. To me it comes accross as downright arrogant. Basically she telling us that no one read the bill.

        • Still Independent says:

          swedesboromike: draw from her remarks what you wish …. http://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/pressreleases?id=1576

        • F. Inahoy says:

          To Rich, Nigel and Logathis it obviously means that Nancy Pelosi is a brilliant politician who can do and say no wrong and that what she was really saying is that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

  • NigeltheMastiff says:

    I just read an interesting column on this very subject by John Avlon on the CNN site. He calls out Grayson and Bachmann. Here’s the link if you’re interested:
    http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/10/05/avlon.hyper.partisans/index.html?hpt=T2

    • swedesboromike says:

      Nigel, I don’t buy the parallel between Bachman and Grayson. Bachman is speaking in terms of a metaphor. No different than when Obama declares ” we must keep up the fight”. He doesn’t mean a fight in literal terms where as Grayson is openly and massively spouting out lies and using creative editing to completely tell a lie in a campaign ad. For Grayson to try to draw a moral equivalent between himself and Breitbart is even worse. One is a sitting congressman and the other is an internet political hack.

      • NigeltheMastiff says:

        Do you think this is metaphor? “She opposed funding for AmeriCorps, saying she saw “a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service” with “re-education camps.” I think that’s just crazy and inflammatory.

        • swedesboromike says:

          What is Americorps? Just public service like Peace Corps or a required political indoctrination started by a left wing President? Some how I think you would have a problem if President Bush was advocating for ” building a civilian army ” separate from the military.

        • NigeltheMastiff says:

          Mike, for some reason I couldn’t reply to your reply below. So I hope you can follow this, even though it’s above your response. Are you against Americorps? I know two young people who have done it and really gotten a lot out of it. Seems like a win-win to me. But then I guess you’re against any social program at all that helps the poor and disadvantaged? I don’t see how you can equate a civilian army with a teaching corps of young college graduates sent into poor and rural areas.

        • mw56 says:

          Obama quote from July2 speech: “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the NATIONAL SECURITY OBJECTIVES THAT WE’VE SET. We’ve got to have a CIVILIAN NATIONAL SECURITY FORCE that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” Were your 2 friends doing things for National Security? Also Obama he has said he wanted to expand Americorpes from 75,000 to 250,000. After WWI Attorney General Gregory with 3 businessmen (evil rich guys) created the American Justice League. Which was a civil national security force 250,000 strong. Like Yogi Berra said: “This is like deja vu all over again”

        • NigeltheMastiff says:

          Look, I happen to be against a civil national security force — unless you consider the FBI one. But Americorps is a good program that helps bright students through college via scholarships in return for two years of their time teaching disadvantaged children. Come on. Re-education camps? That’s just crazy.

        • johngilb says:

          Bachmann’s comments are wingnuttery. My very accomplished daughter who is a senior in college has told me that the competition to get into AmeriCorps is intense because the applicants come from cream-of-the-crop schools. Can someone explain to me how it is bad for these talented youngsters to spend a few years helping educate those in marginal schools before jumping off to join corporate America? Is this not good for all of us?

        • NigeltheMastiff says:

          Johngilb, of course it is. The two people I know who have done it are incredibly bright and engaged young people. I think it’s a great idea for them to go into depressed areas and help out. What’s not to love?

  • tom - wilmington, de says:

    Polman is right. Recall that ad during the past presidential contest that said if Bush were elected it would lead to the burning of black churches in Missouri…wait, that was a Democrat ad. Well then how about the ad that said if Bush was elected it would lead to more hate crimes against blacks along the lines of James Byrd…wait, that was a Democrat ad too. Gee, I guess Democrats have been in the mud for years just like the Republicans. For a laugh, check out the townhall.com takeoff of a counter to the Grayson ad at http://townhall.com/video/alan-grayson-hates-children-hates-seniors-loves-satan/. Grayson was on MSNBC and said since Webster said the words he took out of context, then it really wasn’t tekn out of context. The guy is a disgrace.

  • Rich says:

    First of all, neither Polman nor anyone else would have noticed an ad like this coming from a Republican campaign, because they produce hundreds, even thousands, this bad and worse every year. Second, we can agree that twisting the truth is reprehensible, but Republicans have proven that it wins political races. So, the problem for Democrats is, do they get down in the mud and start lying themselves, and maybe win some races, or keep their hands clean and keep losing? I would like to think there’s a way to be tough and take the fight to the right without outright lying, but basically what the Dems are usually doing is bringing a cake spatula to a knife fight.

    • mw56 says:

      Your always good for a laugh. Yes this must be the first time the dems have sunk so low or is it. I would vote that the worst ad ever was the “Daisy Girl” ad Johnson used against Goldwater in 1964
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExjDzDsgbww

    • F. Inahoy says:

      Rich – There are medications that can help in clearing the delusional mind, and you could use them by the handful if you honestly believe that Democrats are using cake spatulas in their campaigns.

      • sxmueller says:

        First we would have to see if Rich’s health insurance would cover those meds. I’m sure the right would make sure his beneftis would not. Second, would a grill spatula with a serated edge make the metaphor work better for you?

        • tom - wilmington, de says:

          Under Obamacare Rich would probably not be able to get the meds, especially since the Pharma co’s cannot give them away for free anymore.

    • swedesboromike says:

      Really Rich? Political bias aside I see this as an argument that cut’s both ways. What bothers me most is that they are counting on the electorate to be un-informed.

      • Logathis says:

        We can thank decades-long conservative efforts to rid schools of ‘civics’ classes for the current state of the electorate’s educational level.

        • mw56 says:

          Logathis – Thanks for another example of a Sanchez!!!

        • F. Inahoy says:

          Our schools are for the most part controlled by unionized teachers who monolithically vote Democrat. Please reattach yourself to reality.

  • schnail says:

    High road: Gosh, this is reprehensible. I am shocked, SHOCKED that politicians would do this to one another.

    Low road: Boo f***ing hoo

  • F. Inahoy says:

    I blame Ted Kennedy for this. His diatribe about Robert Bork’s America during the SCOTUS confirmation proceedings turned Bork’s name into a verb that specifically means a deeply personal and slimy attack. And Polman, this despicable attack predates the 1988 presidential campaign.

    • yobill626 says:

      What about Nixon reaching out to the racists with his “Southern Strategy” in 1968?

      • tom - wilmington, de says:

        What about it? It was actually a strategy to gain support of disaffected Democrats. Sure, most of them were against the voting rights and civil rights acts, but it is not as if Kevin Phillips, who thought of the strategy, declared that Republicans were racist so they should court the racist vote. Blacks were registering as Democrats because the Dems were strong in the South at the time, and the whites left the Democrat party because they saw it going away from their values, ignorant and wrong as those values were in some cases. But in no way did Nixon promulgate racist beliefs to gain those votes (unless you call being against forced busing racist).

  • jmc says:

    In political discourse, were quick to throw around the term “nut” or “wacko” to describe a political opponent. Alan Grayson is a different case, however. He really is a nut. He’s mentally deranged and unstable, and should seek counseling. Just look at the permanent scowl he wears on his face. There’s a lot of anger there.

    • Logathis says:

      He only copied the perma-scowl from Dick Cheney. As the famous Nietzsche saying goes: Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.

  • yobill626 says:

    It pains me to actually take to the defense of Dick Cheney, but Greyson is out of line. Just because some Cons have wallowed in this kind of thing & won, doesn’t mean it is acceptable. Unfortunately, in a society that has places for reality TV, Maury Povich & Glenn Beck, the level of what is acceptable seems to be decreasing every year.

  • NigeltheMastiff says:

    This kind of behavior just makes me sick. And the thought that liberals must do it because conservatives did it to them first is even more repugnant. This is the reason most people are just disgusted with politics and politicians.

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