There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):
The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:
We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.
Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.
Mitt Romney’s Press Secretary Andrea Saul was hit with a biblical flood of conservative outrage yesterday, after she mentioned that the steelworker’s wife in the Priorities USA ad would have had health insurance under Romneycare if she had been living in Massachusetts. Calls for Saul’s firing (and eulogies for the Romney campaign) commenced immediately.
In an interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Andrea Saul invoked Massachusetts’s expansion of health coverage as a defense to a harsh new ad funded by a super PAC supporting President Obama. In the spot, a former steelworker whose plant was closed by Bain Capital blames Romney, who co-founded the firm, for his family’s loss of health insurance and his wife’s subsequent death from cancer.
“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said in the interview. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.”
Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):
The Obama campaign has spent the last day and a half ducking questions about Joe Soptic, the steelworker featured in the Priorities USA attack ad. Campaign adviser Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Obama campaign spokeswomen Stephanie Cutter and Jen Psaki have gone so far as to claim they don’t know enough about the specifics of the Soptic story to comment on it. Well, it turns out the Obama campaign should actually be pretty familiar with the specifics — because they’ve used Soptic in their own campaign commercials and even set up conference calls between him and reporters. Politico reports:
Soptic, laid off from Bain Capital-owned GST Steel, stars in a Priorities USA Action spot this week in which he tells of how his wife died without health insurance after he lost his job. Soptic also appeared, wearing what appears to be an identical shirt, in a May television ad for the Obama campaign. …
Both the campaign and the Priorities USA Action said there was no coordination about Soptic’s appearances. In the campaign’s ad, Soptic speaks only about the plant. In the Priorities spot, he tells the personal story he relayed during the Obama campaign conference call.
The pro-Obama Priorities USA ad that blames Mitt Romney for the death of a steeelworker’s wife is even sleazier than it initially sounded. CNN reports that the wife of former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic had health insurance through her own job, despite the ad’s claim that she lost her insurance when her husband was laid off (video via HotAir):
The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:
The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”
He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer and by then it was stage four. It was — there was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days.”
Politico reported this morning that Morgan Freeman donated $1 million to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA last month. The organization has reportedly been struggling to drum up donors, which isn’t surprising as Democrats have spent the past two years demonizing super PACs. Clearly, they hope Freeman’s donation will signal to wealthy liberals that it’s okay to support these groups.
But note Freeman’s statement out this morning:
“Pres. Obama has done a remarkable job in historically difficult circumstances. … I am proud to lend my voice … to those who defend him. Priorities USA Action is doing a great job of protecting the values I believe in. I am happy to help them and I hope others will join me.”
He wasn’t defending his donation as a necessary evil. Instead, he said he was “proud to lend [his] voice.” That’s an interesting choice in wording, considering Democrats have been mocking the idea that political spending is protected speech for the last two years.
But Freeman is right, and the Supreme Court has affirmed it. Political spending is a form of free expression. As Justice Antonin Scalia explained eloquently to CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, “You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”