No, I don't think "Wendy Davis is running one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see," as the Washington Post headline puts it. I get that it crosses the line. There should have at least been some acknowledgment of Abbott's pain and suffering if an ad like this was going to be made at all.
On the other hand, the notion that Abbott is the sort of conservative who got a helping hand but doesn't want one extended to others is a valid point. If he won a good settlement in a lawsuit after the accident that paralyzed him and has acted in a professional capacity to deny a similar outcome to others, that's meaningful.
But beyond the fact that we may recoil at attacks on the severely injured, we also don't seem to mind anymore when conservatives display a lack of fellow-feeling. Clarence Thomas bashes programs that benefited him, and we mostly just shrug. Tea Party members attack the use of entitlements at weekday rallies many of them are free to attend because they're retired and collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits; we cede them a large degree of control over our political discourse.
Here's the Davis ad. (I'm posting a political blogger's copy of the ad in case the Davis campaign takes the original down.)
For what it's worth, Abbott has made use of his condition in his own ads, both for drama and for comedy:
But I understand -- there's a difference between referencing a charged aspect of your own autobiography and having it brought up by opponents. In that sense, it's somewhat like Barack Obama's racial background.
Would a Republican get away with an ad like this? It's hard to say. For an exact analogy, you'd have to have a Republican attacking a grievously wounded Democrat for indifference to the suffering of similar victims -- and I'm not sure there are all that many categories of injury victims Republicans care about.
But Republicans will attack Democrats who've lost limbs while serving the country. The obvious example is Georgia senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam vet and triple amputee. Saxby Chambliss attacked Cleland's patriotism in 2002, and while the most notorious ad doesn't address Cleland's injuries in any way (and, as Brendan Nyhan hs noted, doesn't exactly compare Cleland to Osama bin Laden), it does accuse Cleland of disloyalty to America in a time of war for, among other things, a vote to amend the Chemical Weapon Treaty (the provision Cleland voted for had majority support in the Senate) and votes to preserve civil service protections in the Department of Homeland Security:
Tammy Duckworth, who lost two legs in the Iraq War, won a congressional seat in 2012 against teabagger hero Joe Walsh. During the campaign, Walsh compared Duckworth unfavorably to John McCain:
Understand something about John McCain. His political advisers, day after day, had to take him and almost throw him against a wall and hit him against the head and say, "Senator, you have to let people know you served! You have to talk about what you did!" He didn't want to do it, wouldn't do it. Day after day they had to convince him. Finally, he talked a little bit about it, but it was very uncomfortable for him. That's what's so noble about our heroes. Now I'm running against a woman who, my God, that's all she talks about. Our true heroes, it's the last thing in the world they talk about. That's why we’re so indebted and in awe of what they've done.Walsh lost after saying that -- but Duckworth lost her first congressional race, in 2006, to Republican Peter Roskam, wo was widely reported at the time to have called her a "cut-and-run Democrat." (A Roskam spokesman later explained that Roskam had actually said theirs was "not a cut-and-run district." Ahhh, that's very different.)
And on the subject of disabilities not related to the military, Rush Limbaugh famously attacked Michael J. Fox for making ads on behalf of Democrats in 2006, at a time when embryonic stem-cell research was a major issue; Limbaugh punctuated this attack with a crude imitation of Fox's tremors, and alleged that they were faked. I can't find evidence of a Republican politician defending Limbaugh, but Limbaugh was prominently defended by Sean Hannity and others on the right.
And if I'm going to talk about attacks on victims by right-wing commentators, I shouldn't omit Ann Coulter's smearing of 9/11 widows who pressured the Bush administration for more information on the attacks, as well as others, including Cleland, whom Coulter considers "professional victims."
In any event, it's hard for me to think about the Davis spot as some sort of all-time low in political advertising when I've seen the Jesse Helms "Hands" ad, the work of Lee Atwater, and ads like these, from winger provocateur Ladd Ehlinger, Jr.:
Davis has a long way to go to top that Janice Hahn ad.