Political Strategy - Going on the Offensive
"I knew the Republicans would react like animals if they ever found themselves on the losing end of an election," or so says Digby at Hullabaloo here.
But whatever is he talking about?
It might be the Michael J. Fox political ad that everyone is buzzing about - the one Rush Limbaugh attacked, saying Fox is faking it. You can watch that here.
The Limbaugh attack sort of matches with what happened in Illinois where a Democratic house candidate, Tammy Duckworth, the Army helicopter pilot who while fighting in Iraq lost both her legs when she was shot down and now wants to wind this war down, was attacked by her opponent as someone who wants to "cut and run." She pointed to her aluminum legs and smiled. You can read about that here in the Chicago Sun Times -
Calling it "crude" and "offensive," Democrat Tammy Duckworth's campaign team is accusing Republican congressional rival Peter Roskam of tarring the war veteran who lost her legs in combat with advocating a "cut-and-run" strategy in Iraq.
But Roskam's camp fired back that the GOP state senator was being "misquoted" and "misrepresented" and Duckworth's campaign was lying.
It is getting nasty out there.
As for Limbaugh, David Montgomery, of the Washington Post gives the basics here -
Possibly worse than making fun of someone's disability is saying that it's imaginary. That is not to mock someone's body, but to challenge a person's guts, integrity, sanity.
To Rush Limbaugh on Monday, Michael J. Fox looked like a faker. The actor, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, has done a series of political ads supporting candidates who favor stem cell research, including Democrat Ben Cardin, who is running against Republican Michael Steele in a Maryland U.S. Senate race.
"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act.... This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."
Limbaugh was reacting to Fox's appearance in another one of the spots, one for Democratic Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill against Republican James M. Talent.
But the Cardin ad is similar. It is hard to watch, unless, for some reason, you don't believe it. As he speaks, Fox's restless torso weaves and writhes in a private dance. His head bobs from side to side, almost leaving the picture frame.
"This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has," Limbaugh said. "He can barely control himself."
Later Monday, still on the air, Limbaugh would apologize, but reaction to his statements from Parkinson's experts and Fox's supporters was swift and angry.
No kidding. The Post provides a roundup off all that, but Michael Fox himself was silent. Fox was campaigning for Tammy Duckworth, oddly enough, and his spokesman said Fox had no public comment. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh will start cracking jokes about the lame and the halt sticking together - losers that they are. He's one piece of work.
But of course he made some adjustments - ""Now people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial. All right then, I stand corrected. So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."
Then came the classic pivot, as something else must be going on - "Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democratic politician."
Then he really is as sick as he appears, and those nasty Democrats are using him and exploiting him, so you have to feel sorry for the poor guy, and angry with the Democrats for somehow tricking him into the whole thing. If they hadn't clouded his mind with their evil powers he'd remember stem cell research involves the murder of actual children, or close enough. Yep, that must be it.
The same ground is covered by the Associated Press here, but as the story is from the entertainment desk, you get different details -
Celebrities have a long history of supporting political candidates. But there's no question that Fox, who campaigned for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, is uniquely suited as a spokesman for embryonic stem cell research, which some scientists believe could aid in discovering treatments or cures to Parkinson's and other diseases.
"The reason that he's powerful is that he's comparatively young," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director for the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. "As a result, a lot of people in that age range can look at him and say, `If that can happen to him, it can happen to me.'"
Jamieson notes that the issue of stem cell research has the potential to be an advantage to Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections since polls have shown the majority of Americans favor some form of stem cell research. The risk, she adds, is that the ads could appear as using Fox's hopes for a cure for political gain, as some claimed was the case when the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve lobbied for stem cell research before his death in 2004.
Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder of the central nervous system that leaves patients increasingly unable to control their movements. In his ads, Fox shows a remarkable nakedness that recalls Dick Clark's appearance last Dec. 31 on ABC's "New Year's Rockin' Eve," displaying the effects of his debilitating stroke a year prior.
Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 and revealed his condition publicly in 1998. In 2000, the "Spin City" and "Back to the Future" star quit full-time acting because of his symptoms and founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which has raised millions of dollars.
So that put things in celebrity context, for what that's worth.
The AP notes only one other bit of context, from John Boockvar, a neurosurgeon and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical Center at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, who calls Limbaugh's claim that Fox was acting "ludicrous." It was the evil mind-control rays from the Democrats - "If there is one single disease that has the highest potential for benefit from stem cell research it's Parkinson's." And as for worrying about all the dead children - small clumps of sixteen cells that would be discarded anyway don't seem to be children.
But this was a political move by Rush - he's just supporting the side he thinks is right, and attacking those who question them.
It's standard stuff. You might remember the 2002 attacks on Max Cleland, as in this video. He was a highly-decorated Vietnam War guy, a triple amputee who fell on a grenade to save his buddies. He wanted changes in the original Patriot Act to preserve the bargaining rights of the few unionized federal employees - so he was unpatriotic and on the side of the terrorists. That cost him his senate seat. And note here that two years later, Ann Coulter claimed Cleland had actually wounded himself in combat - he cleverly transformed his bumbling carelessness in some sort of false heroic myth. That was about the time such folks were saying John Kerry did the same thing in Vietnam, to get his purple hearts - and delegates at that summer's Republican convention all wore purple band-aids to mock him, and support the real hero, George Bush. Some things never change.
It's just politics.
But Bill Montgomery notes it's not very good politics -
If you're Claire McCaskill (Missouri) or Ben Cardin (Maryland) this is the best thing since the invention of the teleprompter. Both are running against anti-abortion, anti-stem cell Republicans; both badly need a big turnout among pro-choice, pro-stem cell voters to win. But both are also running in Border South states with large Catholic voting blocks - i.e. states where the anti-abortion movement is strong and a pro-choice stand can alienate a lot of voters who might otherwise be willing to pull the Democratic lever.
But Rush, in his infinite wisdom, has now ensured that the issue isn't abortion. It isn't even stem cells. Now it's all about Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's Disease - which is exactly how you don't want it framed if you're the GOP candidates in those races (or a supporter of Missouri's proposed constitutional ban on stem cell research.)
I don't know where Limbaugh got the idea that telling scurrilous lies about one of America's favorite celebrities - and someone who enjoys a huge amount of public sympathy to boot - was a shrewd political move. But the Dems should be damned glad he did. Considering how razor-close the Missouri race appears to be, Rush may have just single-handedly booted away a Republican Senate seat.
Go Rush! Go!
Yep, sometimes firing up the base can backfire. As we know out here in Hollywood, a select few celebrities are just plain off limits - you just don't rag on them. Others - Tom Cruise, Barbara Streisand, Paris Hilton - no problem. Rush did not just make a reprehensible moral mistake, and a major political blunder - he attacked a pop icon. Bad move.
But something is going on here. In the absence of being able to defend the war, the economy (at least as it seems by the eighty-eight percent of us for whom it's worse than ever), Medicare Plan D, the deficits, the way the government handles domestic emergencies like big hurricanes, the healthcare system and so on and so forth, dealing with these "challenges" has taken some strange twists.
You get your basic lying, as in this -
A Democratic congressional candidate accused in a political ad of billing taxpayers for a call to a phone-sex line suggested he may have misdialed the number while trying to reach a state agency.
The ad that began airing Friday shows Democrat Michael Arcuri leering at the silhouette of a dancing woman who says, "Hi, sexy. You've reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line."
But Arcuri's campaign released records showing the call two years ago from his New York City hotel room to the 800-number sex line was followed the next minute by a call to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. The last seven digits of the two numbers are the same.
Arcuri, the district attorney in Oneida County, said the ad was "clearly libelous" and threatened to file a lawsuit. His GOP opponent, state Sen. Ray Meier, described it as "way over the line."
At least seven television stations in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton refused to run the ad, Arcuri said.
The ad's sponsor, the National Republican Congressional Committee, stood by the 30-second message. Spokesman Ed Patru insisted it was "totally true" and said Meier was not consulted.
Wait, wait, wait - the Republican candidate said it wasn't true and way out of line and the National Republican Congressional Committee said they'd keep running it anyway, as they didn't particularly care what their own candidate thought and that various media outlets wouldn't show it as it was clearly not factual and they the have their rules about such things? That couldn't be so. But it is.
And the same thing happened in Tennessee with this television ad, which prompted this exchange on CNN's Situation Room between William Cohen, the former Clinton administration Defense Secretary and once Republican senator from Maine -
COHEN: I think the Republicans have to be careful, also, in terms of not engaging in conduct. And I was watching the - the Tennessee race, specifically. It reminded me of what happened in North Carolina with Harvey Gantt, a purely overt racist approach.
BLITZER: You are talking about the new RNC ad which has this white woman talking about Playboy and the - the African-American candidate, Harold Ford Jr., the Democratic candidate.
COHEN: It's - to me, at least as I watch that, is a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment. And when the question is always asked, why - he would be the first African-American since Reconstruction elected to the Senate, you say, well, why is that the case? So, why is the South different? Why would they not elect someone...
BLITZER: So, you're a former Republican senator. Is the RNC playing the racial card against Harold Ford in Tennessee right now?
COHEN: I think they are coming very close to it, if not doing it exactly. And I think they ought to stop it. I think that they have a candidate, and discuss the - the issues on the merits, and not get into that kind of personal type of an attack.
You have to watch the video to see what he's getting at - the center of the ad is basically reminding folks that these oversexed black men want our white women folk, and they must be stopped.
And of course, as they say in the infomercials - But wait! There's more? That would be a web site called FancyFord.com created by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to mock what they're trying to establish as Ford's high living ways - and that used to have a photo of a few nubile white women on the home page, but they removed that image.
The item linked here does, by the way, explain the Harvey Gantt ad to which Cohen referred - that was the 1994 North Carolina Senate race with Jesse Helms. The ad showed a white man's hands tearing up an employment rejection letter as the narrator mournfully intones that the job had to be given to a minority because of racial quotas. Gantt was one of those, an African American, as they say. It worked. Helms was reelected.
But as in New York, so in Tennessee - Bob Corker, Ford's opponent for the Senate seat, has asked the Republican National Committee to pull the ad. He says it's tacky, and way over the line. The Republican National Committee says they won't, and in fact they can't. Maybe they remember Tennessee was where the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866, and will ride this out, no matter what their own candidate says.
And here's the video, Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican National Committee, telling Tim Russert on national television that the ad stays on air -
RUSSERT: Ken Mehlman, the Republican candidate in Tennessee has asked that you take that ad off the air, that it is over the top. Former Republican Senator William Cohen says it's, quote, "overt racist appeal." Will you take that ad down?
MEHLMAN: Tim, I don't have the authority to take it down or put it up. It's what called an independent expenditure. The way that process works under the campaign reform laws is I write a check to an independent individual. And that person's responsible for spending money in certain states. Tennessee is one of them. I'll tell you this, though. After the comments by Mr. Corker and by former Senator Cohen, I looked at the ad. I don't agree with that characterization of it. But it's not an ad that I have authority over. I saw it for the first time the same time that they did.
RUSSERT: Hilary Shelton, the director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP has criticized this ad. And he said, Ken Mehlman, that you went down to the NAACP in July of 2005 and apologized for the southern strategy of Republican candidates under Richard Nixon and using race as a wedge issue and that this ad does exactly that.
MEHLMAN: I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Shelton. I don't believe that ad does that. I will tell you this: I'm very proud of that speech I made. I think that there is nothing more repugnant in our society than people who try to divide Americans along racial lines. And I would denounce any ad that I felt did. I happen not to believe that ad does, but as I said before, I don't have the legal authority to take the ad down. It's an independent expenditure. I looked at it. I just disagree with what Mr. Shelton said about it.
RUSSERT: Well, it's not only Mr. Shelton. Former Senator Cohen, Vanderbilt professor John Green says it makes the Willie Horton ad look tame, that it's filled with racial polarization.
MEHLMAN: Again, I just don't agree with that at all. I showed it to a number of people when the complaints came out about it after it was put up - African-American folks, Hispanic folks and myself. We all looked at it. All of us, I think, are very sensitive to that. And we did not have that same reaction to it. So I just think there's a disagreement about it.
RUSSERT: The whole idea of having a blond white woman winking at a black congressman, the notion of interracial sex is not in your mind racist?
MEHLMAN: I think that that ad talks about a number of people on the street talking about things that Mr. Ford allegedly has either done or a proposal he has for the future. I think it's a fair ad. As I said, we didn't have anything to do with creating it. I just think those criticisms of it are wrong.
RUSSERT: And so the NAACP Washington director, an organization that you tried to court, is denouncing the ad - and it doesn't seem to phase you.
MEHLMAN: Well, the Washington director of the NAACP and I happen to disagree about this. I was proud of that speech I made. I took some heat for saying it. It was the right thing to say. I'm proud of the fact that our party under this president and under my leadership has made an incredibly aggressive effort to reach out to African-Americans. I'm proud of the increased number of African-Americans who are running. I believe there is nothing more important we can do than bring people together. I just happen to disagree about the characterization of this ad. And more importantly, there's nothing I can do about it, because it's not an ad over which I have authority or control. This is an independent expenditure.
Make of all that what you will.
Everyone knows the ad is racist - one of those "they're after our white women" things. It's a bit obvious. Even the candidate it's supposed to benefit is appalled and wants it pulled. And it carries the tag line - "This message was paid for and approved by the Republican National Committee" - but they have no power to pull it, and won't anyway. They said they were sorry for that Southern Strategy - pulling in formerly Democratic voters by opposing all civil rights legislation way back when. But this is politics, after all. And there is a precedent Mehlman is counting on - McCain forgave Rove and Bush for that business in the 2000 South Carolina where the Rove guys spread the word that McCain a fathered a mixed-race love child with a black crack addict. McCain got clobbered and Bush was then assured the nomination, and later Bush apologized, explaining it was only politics. McCain was okay with that. Surely the black folk will be as understanding.
We'll see about that.
So it's nasty out there - or sometimes it's just silly -
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn't fazed by a report that her Republican challenger John Spencer said she was unattractive in her youth and must have had "millions of dollars" of plastic surgery.
"My high school picture was cute," Clinton joked with reporters during a campaign stop Monday, the same day Spencer's alleged comments were reported in the New York Daily News.
Spencer, in an interview with The Associated Press, denied making the comments to a reporter-columnist during a flight Friday from New York City to Rochester for the first of two weekend debates between the Senate contenders.
"It's a fabrication. I would never call Hillary Clinton ugly," the former mayor of Yonkers told the AP. "That's outrageous. I didn't do it."
Clinton said comments about her appearance strayed from the issues of the campaign.
"It's unfortunate that when you don't have anything positive to say about the issues that we can get off in some pretty swampy territory," Clinton said during the stop at a senior citizens' center in Watervliet just north of Albany.
Spencer did acknowledge talking to reporter Ben Smith on the flight.
So Spencer is backing off the "vote for me because the woman running against me was a butt-ugly teenager" ploy. Well, it was worth a try. The problem is people just laughed at him. Time to shift gears.
And it's not really nasty, like this - the Republican congresswoman who now holds Cheney's old seat in Wyoming and wants to hold onto it says to her opponent, a wheelchair-bound MS sufferer, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face."
Now that's a classic. Such things happen when you listen to too much Rush Limbaugh.
There's detailed rundown of the incident here, in everyone's favorite paper, the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Start Tribune, but it's a bit convoluted. You might try this summary -
OK, let's go to instant replay: Asked to comment on the political sewer that is the Republican Congress, the Democratic candidate starts babbling about giving away taxpayer dollars to finance the kind of sleazy shit we're all seeing on the tube these days - in Wyoming! The Libertarian candidate, on the other hand, deftly plants the Abramoff shiv directly between the GOP candidate's bony shoulders, causing her to go completely ballistic and threaten to slap a person in a wheelchair.
Well, they don't call it the Wild West for nothing.
What to make of the five incidents? It's a bit like that old saw about how lawyers sometimes have to win a case in court - if you don't have the facts on your side, pound the law, and if you don't have the law on your side, pound the table. The idea is that you'd better pound something.
The problem is that for the incumbents, there's nothing handy.