Michael Steele, when he was its Chair, brought Republican National Committee operations to a new ethical low that might have been favored by Michael Corleone. He never did anything this despicable, however, perhaps because he was replaced just as he was getting warmed up. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because even Steele knew that some political tactics were just too despicable to engage in.
In a web ad circulated this week designed to attack the health care reform law, the Republican National Committee excerpts the opening seconds of the March 27 presentation to the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, defending the law’s constitutionality. In the ad, he is heard struggling for words and twice stopping to drink water. “Obamacare,” the ad concludes, in words shown against a photograph of the high court. “It’s a tough sell.”
The transcript and recordings, however, give a different impression. Verrilli took a sip of water just once, paused for a much briefer period and completed his thought — rather than stuttering and trailing off as heard in the ad. In short, the tape was edited by the RNC to misrepresent what occurred inside the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is a lie, and a particularly heinous one, even by political ad standards, which are a cut below Shamwow and the Fishin’ Magician. Even by Michael Steele standards—he who twice approved fundraising appeals disguised to look like U.S. Census documents.
RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer called the video a “mash-up ” that splices together several separate pauses and stutters by Verrilli during the first two minutes of his argument. “Are there multiple clips in that video? Yes,” Spicer told Bloomberg. “The point was that he continually had to stop because he was having trouble making the case for why Obamacare was valid.”
No, the point is that the clip is false, deceptive and dishonest, and that you are an unethical, untrustworthy, unprofessional blight on American politics. That’s the point.
While Solicitor General Verrilli paused once to drink water during the opening moments of his presentation, he stopped talking for only a few seconds before continuing with his argument. In the RNC ad, however, he pauses for about 20 seconds, coughs, sips water and stutters. The ad is grossly unfair to a distinguished lawyer serving his country honorably, and also to anyone deceived by it. And deception is the intent.
On his SCOTUS blog, attorney Tom Goldstein’s anger and indignation are evident, appropriate, and vividly stated:
“I’ve been in practice for seventeen years, and the blog has existed for ten, and this is the single most classless and misleading thing I’ve ever seen related to the Court. It is as if the RNC decided to take an incredibly serious and successful argument that has the chance to produce a pathbreaking legal victory for a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, drag it through the mud, and vomit on it. I would be shocked if a serious conservative lawyer would stand by the ad. The RNC’s supposed point is that the Administration’s own lawyer’s argument demonstrates that it could not defend the individual mandate. But to then manipulate the audio is seriously misleading to the listener and at best succeeds only in distracting from the point. How can the Administration’s presentation prove the RNC’s point if it isn’t actually what happened? If it is just fine to pretend, why not just insert someone with the same voice as Verrilli saying, “Mr. Chief Justice, we believe the individual mandate should be upheld because we hate the Constitution?”
Unethical, disrespectful, unfair, dishonest, and stupid, stupid, stupid.
In addition, the RNC has probably harmed more than its own already tarnished reputation and cause. This is exactly what the Supreme Court justices have feared as they have limited access to Court proceedings despite calls for transparency. As Goldstein notes, “What is to stop the same misleading stunt being pulled with the Justices’ own oral argument questions and comments? Nothing at all… the Justices now have before them a perfect illustration of the gross distortion that can instantly be made of recordings of their proceedings. The Court made a special exception in releasing the oral argument tape for the health care arguments so promptly, and it probably will hesitate before doing so again. If there were any chance that the Justices would permit cameras in the Court, I do not see it happening now.” Timothy R. Johnson, a University of Minnesota political science professor, agrees. “This ad is the justices’ worst nightmare,” he said. “It’s the reason why they don’t want cameras in the court.”
Well done, Republicans! You deceived the public, smeared the Solicitor General, betrayed the Supreme Court, and showed that you will do absolutely anything to win in November, whether it is fair and honest or not. Good to know.
And perhaps most shocking of all, you made Michael Steele seem ethical.
That, I can never forgive.