Monday, October 18, 2010


Jonathan Chait writes:

The ugliest, most illiberal political ad of the year may be this one, from Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway:

If I hadn't been paying attention, I might agree with Chait, but, um, really? Uglier and more illiberal than this?

Or this?

I know we're Democrats, but do we have to beat ourselves up all the time? Even if you loathe this ad and feel it's illiberal, can you at least keep a little perspective? Can you keep in mind what the opposition is up to?

Democratic senator Claire McCaskill also piles on:

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said Monday that a controversial ad run by Democratic Senate nominee Jack Conway in Kentucky is "very dangerous" and "came close to the line" of appropriateness....

"Candidates who are at behind at the end reach and sometimes they overreach," McCaskill said. "This ad is a very dangerous ad because it reaches back to college... I think the ad came close to the line." ...

Look, I'm a Democrat and an atheist, so you'd expect me to find this ad chilling. I don't, for a few reasons.

Yes, it operates on the presumption that belief in the Christian God is morally superior to any other belief system, religious or otherwise. But that's no more true of this ad than it is of a famous line from Barack Obama's career-making 2004 convention speech: "We worship an awesome God in the blue states." Note that he cites one God -- and realize that the God called "awesome" in America is absolutely not Wiccan or Buddhist or even Jewish. "Awesome God" is an expression used by Christians.

Do I want candidates subjected to these faith tests? Well, it's too late: in much of the country they already are, implicitly. In much of the country, it's assumed that a candidate for elected office should be a Christian in good standing -- and, what's more, right-wing Republicans start with a presumption that they've passed this test, while moderate and (certainly) liberal Democrats are assumed to be suspect in this area. If I thought this ad was increasing the likelihood that candidates in general would be subject to religious tests by voters, I'd hate it. But I don't believe it does. I think any Democrat is already compelled to make a great effort to pass this test in much of America. All this ad does is try to hold a Republican up to the same level of scrutiny.

Oh, and there is that sexually unsettling kidnapping "prank." Is it really wrong to bring that up?

But I know: reaching back to a candidate's youth is a bit over the line. Well, let's just say I feel as bad about that as Republicans felt in '92 when they accused Bill Clinton of draft-dodging (or taking a college trip to the Soviet Union to engage in anti-American activities). I feel as bad as Christine O'Donnell feels for quoting the college article Chris Coons wrote about becoming a "bearded Marxist." Know of any Republicans who used the word "ugliest" to describe those attacks?

When you attack someone for youthful activities, voters actually grasp the salient point: this was a youthful activity. They don't judge the attack the same way they judge criticism of more recent words and deeds.

So this is probably not a vicious low blow for a simple reason: it probably doesn't work. Therefore, I'm not going to beat myself up for it on behalf of my team.

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