Saturday, October 02, 2010

Taliban Truthiness

The truth is more important than the facts ~ Frank Lloyd Wright (6/8/1867 to 4/9/1959) an American architect, interior designer, writer and educator, who designed more than 1,000 projects, which resulted in more than 500 completed works. Wright authored 20 books and many articles, and was a popular lecturer in the United States and in Europe. Wright was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as "the greatest American architect of all time".

"Independent" blogger Willis "Take No Prisoners" Hart (WTNPH) recently authored a post about Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson for his blog, Contra O'Reilly. The title of the post, "Lying About Your Opponent is Only Bad (Apparently) When Your Opponent Does It", makes the charge that the unabashedly Liberal Grayson is a liar.

The charge, as articulated by Willis in his post, is that "...Congressman Alan Grayson may in fact have committed a Breitbart".

WTNPH goes on...

Willis Hart: I'm referring to that latest over-the-top ad of his against his opponent, Daniel Webster ("Taliban Dan", he refers to him as). In this particular ad, footage is shown in which Mr. Webster is apparently quoting the Bible verse which says that women should in fact submit to their husbands. And, yes, even worse than that, the footage seemingly reveals Mr. Webster of being a proponent of this type of sentiment. Yeah, well, guess what, folks - I've in fact seen the entire clip and Mr. Webster doesn't even remotely subscribe to the sentiment. Grayson and his campaign flunkies flagrantly spliced and diced the tape to flat-out make the fellow look bad. (9/30/2010 AT 6:56pm).

Alan Grayson (DOB 3/13/1958) is an American attorney who is currently serving as a member of the US House of Representatives from Florida's 8th congressional district. He assumed office on 1/2/2009. His Republican opponent in the upcoming election is longtime Florida politician Daniel Webster (DOB 4/27/1949). Webster is a former representative in Florida House of Representatives (1980 to 1998), and member of the Florida Senate (1998 to 2008). He is the longest serving legislator in Florida history (28 years).

In September of 2010 the Grayson campaign began running a 30-second commercial calling Webster Taliban Dan and warning viewers that "Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom, in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida". (information condensed from Wikipedia. Both the ad and the full clip can be viewed here. The ad can be found on YouTube here).

A Congressman With Guts

I've been a fan of Rep. Grayson ever since he made headlines with his suggestion on the House floor that the Republican health care plan is simply to not get sick, but if you do you should die quickly. Republicans were outraged and demanded an apology. But according to Grayson donors agreed with his remarks and, of the $347,000 raised for his reelection campaign during the third quarter, much of it can be attributed to his comments made on 9/29/2009 during the debate preceding passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

A 4/19/2006 Wall Street Journal story, "Attorney Pursues Iraq Contractor Fraud" describes Grayson as "waging a one-man war against contractor fraud in Iraq". According to the article, "Mr. Grayson has filed dozens of lawsuits against Iraq contractors on behalf of corporate whistle-blowers". Grayson, an Iraq war critic, said, "the [bush] administration's botched handling of Iraq opened the door for corrupt contractors to improperly reap fortunes there.

Finding myself in complete agreement with Mr. Grayson's sentiments regarding the Iraq war, the bush administration, and health care, I concluded that Mr. Grayson was one of the good guys. Which is why I defended Rep. Grayson when the Hartster attacked him on 9/20/2010, saying Grayson is, "a fellow who could really use an intervention" and that, "he isn't as off the charts stupid as Bachmann... [but] I really don't think that the elevator is working all that well either".

I pointed out that Mr. Grayson has an impressive background. He completed his coursework at Harvard in three years, graduating in the top 5% of his class (summa cum laude). Four years after that he had earned a degree (with honors) from Harvard Law School, a masters in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a PhD in government (according to Wikipedia).

Willis fired back by arguing that "Ann Coulter's Cornell and University of Michigan Law [degree] is impressive. And so is Laura Ingraham's Dartmouth and University of Virginia Law [degree]". The implication being that these two may have impressive credentials but they're still nitwits - and so is Grayson. He then declared my comment to be "my-way-or-the-highway sentiment from a my-way-or-the-highway liberal".

I'm guessing "my way" is that all Democrats should agree with me or be labeled traitors or DINOs? I don't know. What is apparent is that my admiration of Mr. Grayson seriously ruffled the feathers of the proprietor of Contra O'Reilly. I think what set him off was my response to his assertion that Grayson is "not right in the head". I said, "perhaps that is how someone of high intelligence is perceived by someone of a lesser intelligence?"

But I phrased it in the form of a question, which makes it OK... because I wasn't saying Willis is stupid, just asking if that could, perhaps, be the explanation. I didn't say so on WTNP's blog, but I'll admit it here... Coulter and Ingraham, IMO, do qualify as being "not right in the head", and from a centrist perspective, Alan Grayson probably does appear looney (???). Personally I believe Grayson is speaking truth to power. According to the Wall Street Journal story I previously mentioned, Grayson's "car displayed bumper stickers such as Bush lied, people died".

Taliban To Far?

In any case, this may explain why Willis gleefully tore into Rep. Grayson after the story broke regarding his campaign's use of an "out of context" quote from Mr. Webster in the Taliban Dan TV ad. WTNPH has done this before. Viewing himself a "fair and balanced" moderate Democrat, Mr. Hart feels the need to attack MSNBC personalities Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow (who's reporting he recently referred to as "patently sleazy"). In his mind Keith and Rachel are the "liberal equivalent" of Faux News pundits Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly (or perhaps Laura Ingram for Rachel Maddow, since they are both women).

The point being they are all partisan liars (although Willis has said he has some respect for O'Reilly). So, when I proclaimed myself to be a fan of Mr. Olbermann, Willis responded with a post he called "A Response to W-Dervish's Impassioned Defense of Olbermann". In this post Willis claims it is a "fact that Mr. Olbermann ONLY gives one side to literally every story, doesn't EVER allow conflicting viewpoints on his show, doesn't allow people EVER to defend themselves and constantly refuses to debate people".

Naturally I disagree, although the purpose of this post isn't to defend Mr. Olbermann. The point is Mr. Hart has a history of attacking individuals I respect following a comment by me on his blog in which I reveal my admiration for said person. Although he probably would have attacked Mr. Grayson regardless. Perhaps he saw the piece on "The Daily Show" last night. That is where I first heard about the Taliban Dan ad. From the clips shown it appeared irrefutable that Grayson was guilty of approving a despicable and patently dishonest attack ad. I didn't see how I could defend Mr. Grayson given the facts. Certainly seeing as I had just attacked Andrew Breitbart for essentially the same thing, I can't un-hypocritically defend Grayson's ad, can I?

Obviously Grayson believes the way to keep his set in Florida's historically Republican 8th congressional district is through the use of audacious rhetoric that will garner national attention and motivate voters who agree with him to donate to his campaign and get out and vote for him. The "Taliban Dan" ad is indubitably an extension of that strategy.

There is no denying that it has attracted a lot of attention. It has worked so far, so this could be a good strategy. Certainly better than tacking to the Right in order to appease his voters. We all witnessed how John McCain flip flopped (in regards to positions he once held) in order to defeat primary challenger J.D. Hayworth.

I would have been quite disappointed if Grayson had gone that route in an attempt to retain his House seat. Even though the Tea Baggers apparently fell for McCain's reversals, I doubt Grayson could have fooled the voters into believing he isn't a "far left" Liberal. However, even though I admire him for these reasons, if Mr. Grayson is guilty of "pulling a Breitbart" certainly I must repudiate him?

OK, I thought... this looks bad. Maybe he already apologized? Nope. Grayson, when asked about an apology, said "of course not". Because he doesn't believe the ad "distorted Webster's views toward women". According to Grayson "People can argue in context, out of context forever, but the substance of the ad is demonstratively true".

Say what?

The Supposed Facts Obscuring the Genuine Truth

The St. Petersburg Times says "The commercial lifts a partial quote from a comment Webster made in 2007 in a seminar put on by the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), in which he urges listeners to have a Bible verse that they associate with their spouses". In the full video Webster says "not the one that says wives submit yourselves to your husbands", although, Webster adds, "she can pray that if she wants to, but don't you pray it".

In the unedited video Webster explains "[wives should submit to their husbands] - that's in the Bible, but pick the ones (prayers) you're supposed to do". After Grayson's spot aired Webster appeared on Fox News to clarify the issue. Webster said, "I was talking about the idea of praying for your wife, but don't pray to her the verses that say submit to me because THAT'S HER RESPONSIBILITY.

You as a man, as a father, and as a husband have responsibility. So I was saying you focus on your responsibility, not on hers" (YouTube link).

I think that definitely does clarify the issue. Webster believes a wife should submit to her husband. I don't know how much more proof anyone could possibly need beyond a person's own words. Willis' assertion that "Mr. Webster doesn't even remotely subscribe to the sentiment" is incorrect.

Webster's Fundamentalist Church

According to Politifact (A fact checking website operated by the St. Petersburg Times) "Grayson spokesman Sam Drzymala... describes [the IBLP] as a right-wing cult".

Politifact also reports that "Some of [the IBLP's] specific teachings are controversial. Among them, the Institute teaches that a mother violates Scripture when she works outside the home, that married couples are to abstain from sex 40 days after the birth of a son, 80 days after the birth of a daughter & the evening prior to worship, and that people should avoid rock and even contemporary Christian music because it can be addictive".

Furthermore, the IBLP believes "the man provides servant leadership and the woman responds with reverent submission", "a foolish wife will take matters into her own hands", "a wife is to stay beautiful for her husband", and "resistance or indifference to your husband's need for physical intimacy is the unspoken crushing of his spirit".

Politifact rates the Taliban Dan ad FALSE, however, the contributing editor of the Daily Kos, Jed Lewison, responds by observing "when those who are defending you nonetheless include a detailed accounting of your 30-year membership in a cultish group of religious extremists with radical views on the relationship between men and women, then you are way, way outside the mainstream".

Mr. Lewison further observes that the IBLP founder, Bill Gothard, believes that a wife, "has to realize that God accomplishes his ultimate will through the decisions of the husband, even when the husband is wrong", and "Gothard even advises a wife whose husband chastises her to say, God, thank you for this beating".

So, should we "reject Grayson's new ad as a Shirely Sherrod-style smear"? Mr. Lewison's conclusion is, "Webster's own words - from the speech cited in the ad - support the claim [that wives should submit to their husbands]".

The reporting by the MSM and The Daily Show had convinced me that Mr. Grayson was guilty of producing a Breitbart-style deceptively edited video. But after completing my investigation I was surprised to find myself in agreement with Rep. Grayson. The religious organization Webster belongs to clearly DOES believe wives should submit to their husbands. The founder of the institute has said as much, and Webster agrees with him, stating "I enjoy the advice he's given... I think it's been a major part of my life. I'm not ashamed of that. What he has said I believe to be the truth".

The Liberal Option

The consensus at Contra O'Reilly appears to be that Grayson is an asshole. I say he's warning the voters that his opponent is a religious fanatic. I stand by Mr. Grayson and, if I were a resident of the district, would have no problems what-so-ever voting for him. In fact, I would be overjoyed to do so. Where I live (Tennessee's 8th Congressional district) I have the "choice" of voting for Stephen Fincher (the Republican) or Roy Herron (the "Democrat"). There is also an Independent and Tea Party Candidate (although he dropped out).

A choice between three conservatives is a lesser of two evils situation. Herron supports renegotiating NAFTA, so that is a point in his favor - although he opposes a state income tax, thinks the health care bill was "too big", received an A+ from the NRA, believes we need to expand border security and is endorsed by the Conservative blue dogs.

If only I had the opportunity to vote for a true Liberal like Grayson! There would be a big smile on my face as I skipped into my designated polling place while humming "Oh Happy Day".

Ill-Advised, But Not "Out of Context"

That said, I believe using video clip was a mistake, because in the ad it does APPEAR that Webster was taken out of context. Did it occur to no one in the campaign that they would be nailed for that reason? Also, Webster is a radical Christian fanatic, which is bad enough. Comparing him to the Taliban was unnecessary hyperbole. It may have made a great attack ad, but after the Shirley Sherrod fiasco they should have known the full video would come out.

Even though in the Shirley Sherrod case the video WAS deceptively edited, and in this case the video edit was simply a bad idea - people generally don't get subtly. All the public heard was that Webster said husbands should NOT pray that their wives submit. They missed the part where he said it was because the wife should.

Usually I agree with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. I have noticed, however, their need to (at least) occasionally criticize the Left. Usually they are right when they do so, but this time they got it wrong. The Huffington Post also got it wrong. Post author Richard Herbert actually repeats the false allegation that the Grayson campaign was "caught editing a video clip to make Webster appear to say the opposite of what he really said".

FactCheck gets it wrong too, claiming Grayson is "using edited video to make his rival appear to be saying the opposite of what he really said".

But the ad WAS a spectacular backfire, as the Grayson campaign should have been able to predict it would be. That is the only thing I'm going to criticize Mr. Grayson for. Tom Gaitens, Florida director of the billionaire-funded Tea Party astroturfers FreedomWorks asserts, "it's [Grayson's] character to say foolish things, and he doesn't handle stress well. He'll see this poll and get more desperate".

Gaitens predicts a 10-point victory for Webster. Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service says, "they have the potential to be real spoilers in this race and could allow Grayson to squeak through". He's referring to the three other competitors running for the Florida seat - Tea Partier Peg Dunmire, Independent George L. Metcalfe, and write-in qualifier Florida Whig Party candidate Steven J. Gerritzen (for a grand total of FIVE candidates).

Religious Nut Wins Election?

I really hope this ill-advised ad does not cost Grayson the election. Because it would be a travesty if a Taliban-lite religious nut like Daniel Webster were to win the Florida 8th district election. An article on (John Birch Society owned) The New American website quotes Grayson campaign manager Susannah Randolph as saying, "As soon as they realize Webster sponsored a bill to outlaw divorce, opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, and voted for cuts in funding to domestic violence shelters, they'll see he's incredibly anti-women".

Article author Raven Clabough responds by claiming Randolph's statement is "[a sad attempt] to justify the advertisement by refocusing attention on Webster's record of social conservatism". I wouldn't call labeling all those horribly anti-women's rights positions "social conservatism" a rebuttal or a denial, so I presume they're all true.

The issues page on Daniel Webster's official campaign website states, under "sanctity of life", "as affirmed in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life is our first right. Daniel Webster would support legislation that the Constitutional protections of life and liberty extend to the unborn". Granting Constitutional rights to zygotes and blastocysts would certainly outlaw abortion in ALL cases.

Since it is illegal to kill someone to save another's life, under Webster's proposed legislation there wouldn't even be an exception if the mother's death were likely. I think reasonable people on both sides of the abortion debate do agree this position is extreme and outside the norm.

The legislation Webster sponsored (in 1990) to "outlaw divorce" was Florida House Bill 1585, which would have created a voluntary "covenant marriage". Under the proposed legislation (which was never voted on) "men and women would have the option on their application for a marriage license to elect a covenant marriage. Under terms of the agreement, the [couple] would have to have their parents' permission and attend premarital counseling by a member of the clergy or a marriage counselor before proceeding.

As part of their marriage license, the [couple] would sign notarized documents declaring their intention to not seek a divorce for any reason except adultery. Physical or sexual abuse is not listed as grounds for divorce. Politifact (the source of the proceeding information) says the Grayson campaign assertion that this bill would have outlawed divorce is "half true".

I don't know for certain if Webster has ever voted for "cuts in funding to domestic violence shelters". I couldn't find any link which was not just the Susannah Randolph quote. However, before you dismiss it, take this into consideration: the quote was repeated multiple times on Conservative websites - and not once was it disputed. Most of the time it was ignored and the Conservative author immediately jumped to the conclusion that Grayson was lying because the clip was "out of context".

On only one website where I found the quote did the Conservative author respond. That was "The New American", where Raven Clabough calls cuts in funding to domestic violence shelters "social conservatism". If you can provide me with a link that says this is a lie please share - otherwise I will conclude that is it most likely true.

I think it is pretty clear (to me, at least) that the clip is not "out of context". Webster said husbands shouldn't say a prayer asking God to make their wives submissive - not that the wives shouldn't be submissive anyway. In fact, he said it was their responsibility! Webster says "it's in the Bible". It's also in the full video. Watch it yourself and you tell me how anyone could reach the conclusion that "Webster doesn't even remotely subscribe to the sentiment".

His church preaches it, he said it. In any case, whether or not likening Dan Webster religious views to those of the Taliban is valid, I believe the more important truth is Webster is a nut with views about marriage and women's rights that sane people find offensive.

Image: Democrat Alan Grayson and his Republican Opponent Daniel Webster.

See also: Grayson Knocks Taliban Dan Webster For Supporting Covenant Marriage by Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo 8/23/2010

SWTD #53, wDel #1