While Democrats of all stripes are taking pot shots at each other over Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, others are preparing to make sure the next Scott Brown is smeared before he or she can get traction.
Martha Coakley’s many gaffes were of her own creation. From the comment about shaking hands outside Fenway Park, to the claim that
Kurt Curt Schilling was a Yankees fan, to the slap at devoutly religious emergency room workers, Coakley created her own problems. Even the incident with the reporter being pushed to the ground outside Coakley’s DC fundraiser was of Coakley’s own creation as her handler attempted to prevent a reporter from asking perfectly sensible questions.
Coakley’s image problem was not the result of smears, but a result of the blogosphere and mainstream media publicizing Coakley’s own words in context.
There were, however, three key smears directed at Scott Brown, none of which took off because of the overall momentum in the race. Nonetheless, these smears are a road map as to how the next Scott Brown will be attacked.
The first type of smear was the traditional policy smear, in which a policy position is twisted beyond recognition.
The most prominent of these smears was the claim that Brown wanted to deny medical care to rape victims. As I posted before numerous times, this claim was both false and exaggerated. The worst example of exaggeration was the now-notorious rape mailer which claimed that Brown wanted to turn away rape victims from hospitals. This smear reflected a Democratic intention to use identity politics, in this case gender, as a wedge issue. That is a tried and true tactic, but it didn’t work here because the charges were so over the top that the mainstream media never joined the fray.
A second policy smear was the claim that Brown wanted to deny financial assistance to 9/11 workers. Brown voted against a piece of legislation which was not specific to 9/11, but would have given all state workers 15 extra paid days off (in addition to all their other paid vacation and sick time) if they volunteered to help the Red Cross in an emergency. This smear never gained traction because with Brown’s military background, raising 9/11 against Brown was ludicrous.
These policy smears were of the usual campaign variety. Next time, however, they may be more effective if Democrats pick their issues and targets more carefully.
The second type of smear was that Brown was a “birther” because in an interview Brown questioned whether Obama was born out of wedlock. Assuming that Brown raised such a question, that would not make him a “birther” so the story line was that “birthers” claim that Obama was a “bastard” so if Brown questioned Obama’s parentage, Brown was a “birther.”
This smear was false on many levels. The video used to generate this claim, publicized by the Blue Mass Group and other blogs, was tightly edited to take the language out of context. The context was that the moderator was questioning the Palin family’s “morals” because of Bristol Palin’s teenage pregnancy, and Brown simply commented that it doesn’t matter, and in fact Obama’s mother was a teenager when he was born.
The moderator then interjected that at least Obama’s mother was married, to which Brown responded that he didn’t know about that. Brown did not raise the issue, and did not take a position on the issue, but that was enough to cause numerous left wing blogs to run with the story. (As an aside, Michelle Obama herself has stated that Obama’s mother was single at the time of his birth.)
The lesson of this second smear is that the left-wing blogs will do anything, and stretch as far as they need to, to paint opponents as “birthers.” In this sense, “birther” is the new “racist” for Democratic operatives attempting to destroy a Republican; the truth of the accusation doesn’t matter, as long as the label sticks.
The third type of smear, which appeared in the final couple of days of the campaign, was that Brown had agreed with someone in a crowd who shouted that someone should “shove a curling iron up HER butt.” The line most likely was a reference to a controversial case in which Coakley failed to prosecute someone accused of doing a similar thing to a toddler.
The video showed Brown standing on the back of his truck with a megaphone in his hand giving a campaign speech, and there are numerous things being shouted at him. In the background noise one does hear this line shouted, although there is no way to tell who shouted it. At the same time many people were shouting, and Brown paused for a second and the continued with his speech saying “we can do this.” The always disgusting Keith Olbermann used this statement by Brown to launch a rant claiming that Brown agreed with the shout. Many left-wing blogs ran with it as well.
Well-known blogger, Dave Weigel, noted that left-wing activists were late to the fight and to this story:
A reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress who asked Brown uncomfortable questions only arrived on the trail 24 hours before the election, too late for videos of Brown trying to explain, for example, a vote against financial assistance for Red Cross workers assisting in post-9/11 efforts, to have any impact. A video of the viral curling iron” story backfiring on Brown as a supporter yelled a crude remark about Coakley also appeared too close to the election, after the momentum was sealed.
This lesson of this third smear is that anything said in a crowd will be used for viral footage if the candidate does not respond on the spot, even if the candidate did not hear the comment. This happened during the McCain campaign, when someone supposedly shouted that they wanted to kill Obama at a McCain rally. The claim turned out to be false, but it dominated several news cycles.
This “failure to respond” smear is a favorite line of attack by Think Progress, which frequently sends reporters to confront Republicans in situations where they will not have a chance to respond to a question. The story line then is “Senator X refused to” take a position on a controversial subject.
This, I believe, will be the tactic most frequently used against the next Scott Brown. A shout out in a crowd, whether real or planted, or an ambush interview to elicit a non-response, will be the tool of choice.
This is a warning to the next Scott Brown. Be ready.
Update: I just noticed this predictable nonsense from Think Progress based on someone at the Brown victory party waiving a flag which might be construed as calling for a “civil war” (TP’s words):
The left-wing attack machine did not have its act together in the Brown-Coakley race, but we have seen the model of what other candidates can expect.
Added: The “Birther” charge in the screen shot above has been “updated” to include a denial by a Brown spokesman that there ever was an endorsement of that candidate:
“(Update, Thursday, 3 p.m.: Brown spokesman Felix Browne says the senator-elect neither saw nor approved of the press release Hudak put out claiming Brown’s support.)”
This false story has allowed Think Progress to amplify the accusation:
And the aforementioned Dave Weigel is pushing it as well, clinging to the birther language even though the endorsement has been disproven, based on Brown having thanked the candidate at a rally for his work on the campaign.
Trust me on this, for the nutroots, Birther is the new Racist, and we will see the Birther Card played with the same vigor and unseemliness as the race card.