Thursday, September 30, 2010


This is yesterday's news, but I wanted to talk about it anyway: the "Taliban Dan" ad run by Alan Grayson in his Florida House race seemed exciting and inspirational, but it turned out to be wildly inaccurate -- and it's really, really not working:

In one of the most closely watched U.S. House races in the nation, Republican Daniel Webster now holds a 7-point lead over Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson in Central Florida's 8th Congressional District....

"Grayson has real problems here," said Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, which conducted the poll for Sunshine State News....

How badly did this ad backfire? Well, it's all about Webster's undeniably far-right positions on women's issues, and yet:

Female voters are anything but ambivalent about Grayson -- "They really loathe him," Lee reported. With Grayson's 33/53 favorable/unfavorable rating among women, Webster's lead among females is much stronger (45/33 over Grayson) compared to a statistical tie (41/40 Webster) among males.

In a year when Democrats across the country are doing far better among women than among men, Grayson's having precisely the opposite problem.

You probably know the story:

In an attack ad labeling his opponent " Taliban Dan" Webster, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson uses Webster's own words to prove the Republican thinks wives should be subservient to their husbands.

One problem: The Grayson campaign edited the original video, chopping it up and taking Webster's words out of context. Webster actually was advising husbands to bypass those particular Bible passages....

The TV spot includes short clips of Webster saying "...wives submit yourself to your own husband…" and "she should submit to me. That's in the Bible...." The words "submit to me" are repeated twice more.

In the full video, Webster is talking to husbands at a gathering of a religious organization about biblical passages to choose when praying for loved ones. He says:

"Find a verse. I have a verse for my wife; I have verses for my wife. Don't pick the ones that say, um, she should submit to me. That's in the Bible, but pick the ones that you're supposed to do. So instead, 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." ...

(Clips here.)

This is Breitbart-level deceptive editing -- without an ideological noise machine to back up the distorter and further disseminate the distorted message.

I understand Grayson's thinking, as I understand it whenever he throws a verbal bomb -- Republicans succeed with this crap all the time, so why can't we? -- but even Republicans don't fully succeed if there's pushback. (The Shirley Sherrod incident discredited Andrew Breitbart, and if a craven Democratic administration hadn't demanded her ouster, it could have been more of a humiliation for him -- and why should you ever image that a Republican attacked the way Breitbart attacked Sherrod won't stand firm and fight back?)

And the worst thing about this is that Grayson had plenty to work with if he wanted to air a hard-hitting but accurate ad:

Susannah Randolph, Grayson's campaign manager, defended the ad. She pointed to Webster's ties to the Institute in Basic Life Principles and its founder Bill Gothard, who has taught that women should be subservient to their husbands and not work outside the home. While in the state House in 1990, Webster spent $4,340 of taxpayer money to print and mail a district flier urging constituents to attend one of the group's seminars....

The campaign spot also criticized Webster because of his opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest ... and his vote against a measure that would have prohibited insurance companies from treating domestic violence as a pre-existing condition.

That's not enough material to turn into an accurate ad?

Oh, and Bill Gothard? He's a piece of work. I'm not sure how much of this you could use in an ad, but a Gothard-led organization has been accused of abusing children sent for residential counseling:

...[One] girl allegedly was confined in a so-called "quiet room" for five days at a time; restrained by teenage "leaders" who would sit on her; and hit with a wooden paddle 14 times. At least once, the family contends, she was prevented from going to the bathroom and then forced to sit in her own urine....

Gothard has also warned of the evils of Cabbage Patch dolls, claimed that schizophrenia is the result of avoidance of personal responsibility (citing an unnamed "Jewish psychiatrist"), and believes that rock music is evil in all forms. (His Institute in Basic Life Principles sells a booklet titled "How to Conquer the Addiction of Rock Music" and has published an essay titled "Ten Scriptural Reasons Why the 'Rock Beat' Is Evil in Any Form.")

And this isn't a passing acquaintance:

[In 1996,] Daniel Webster journeyed to South Korea on a religious mission, meeting with the country's president and other political and spiritual leaders. He was joined by Bill Gothard, the head of a $30-million Christian evangelical group. Four months after the trip, Webster ascended to one of the most powerful positions in Florida: speaker of the state House of Representatives. He [brought] with him 14 years of experience with Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles, where Webster has not only attended seminars, but also taught classes and even made an instructional video that raised money for the institute.

But I'm getting away from the main point. Democrats don't fight the way Republicans do; Grayson knows this, so he tries to fight the way Republicans do -- and gets it wrong.

Republicans know what they can and can't get away with. If they're going to stretch the truth outrageously in a statement that's going to be seen far and wide, they usually make sure to flood the zone with multiple liars, so the lie becomes the truth by sheer repetition. (See, e.g., "Ground Zero mosque.")

And they don't always go for rhetorical overkill -- a Republican, wanting to attack the way Grayson did, would probably run a somber, ominous, seemingly understated, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger ad leveling charges of extremism against an opponent. The charges would be explosive, but the tone would be (seemingly) responsible and mature. (See, e.g., the Jesse Helms "Hands" ad.)

Republicans are good at this. Democrats need to fight -- but they also to need to learn how. Grayson hasn't learned.

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