Politics & Policy

Coakley’s Eleventh-Hour Slanders

The frenzied Coakley campaign and its proxies, sluggishly waking up to the reality that they are losing in Massachusetts, have resorted to a kitchen-sink attack strategy in the final days of the special election, inundating Bay State voters with motley smears, half-truths, and straight-out lies about Republican candidate Scott Brown.

The latest came on Saturday, when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee played up a video of an undated Brown appearance on the now-defunct CN8 Boston, in which Brown seems to suggest (with an awkward laugh) that he doesn’t know whether President Obama’s parents were married at the time of his birth. (In fact they were married in February 1961, after Obama’s conception but months before his birth.) It is unclear from the video whether Brown’s comment is an unfortunate joke, an admission of ignorance on a point of fact, or something else. But the DSCC went far beyond any reasonable interpretation, attempting to manufacture a connection between Brown and the fringe “Birther” movement, for which the particulars of Obama’s birth all figure into a baroque conspiracy theory about his citizenship.

“Now, we find out that, similar to the fringe Birthers movement, he’s raised questions about President Barack Obama’s birth,” DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz said of the video. “Despite his best attempts to mask who he is, Scott Brown is an extremist who does not represent Massachusetts values, and he owes voters an explanation today on what he meant in this interview.”

The Brown team has dismissed the video as a “non-issue.” And compared to another line of attack pursued by the Coakley camp, the Birther charge looks both cogent and subtle: A mailer sent by the Democratic party in Massachusetts charges, in bold red and white lettering, that “1,736 women were raped in Massachusetts in 2008. Scott Brown wants to turn them all away.” The last predicate is underlined with a smear of crimson, and the text is set against a kind of yearbook page of presumed rape victims, faces blurred to protect the innocent. But the charge itself is entirely baseless. It refers to Brown’s support of an amendment that would allow religious hospitals and religious medical personnel exemption from the distribution of emergency contraception. The Brown campaign has already said it will file a criminal complaint against the Massachusetts Democrats in connection with the potentially libelous ad, and Brown was unusually forceful in condemning it to reporters.

“It’s so far below the belt it’s malicious, and shame on Martha,” Brown said.

Nor is it the first time that Coakley’s campaign has construed Brown’s position as somehow aligned against the welfare of rape victims. In a video ad (which also contains a photo of Rush Limbaugh appearing to execute a Nazi salute), the rape charge is repeated over an image of Brown juxtaposed with dramatized footage of a rape victim sitting alone in a stairwell, knees drawn close to her chest and her head in her hands.

But if Coakley’s advertisements reveal a penchant for misrepresentation, they are also indicative of the campaign’s broader tendency toward gaffes and indiscretions. An early version of the attack ad in question misspelled “Massachusetts.” A later ad accusing Brown of complicity in Wall Street’s “greed” and “corruption” superimposed that charge over an image of the World Trade Center.

Taken as a whole, the tenor of the eleventh-hour attacks on Brown reveals a punch-drunk campaign and a candidate who never expected a fight. And so, in place of a good-faith effort by Coakley to make her case to the voters of Massachusetts, we instead see a mélange of slanders — largely underwritten by the party establishment in Washington — from a campaign holding fast to the hope that even the most mendacious of assaults need only seem to be true until Tuesday.

– Daniel Foster is news editor at National Review Online.

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