Negative campaign advertisements that distort the truth and mislead voters are all too common in politics. But a recent ad by U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson violates all standards of decency. The Orlando Democrat manipulated his Republican opponent's words and compares him to the terrorist-backing Taliban. He owes former Florida House Speaker Dan Webster an apology but has declined to give it. The entire incident, in one of the nation's most closely watched congressional races, may do more to inform voters about Grayson than anything else.
Grayson, in mocking some of Webster's conservative Christian positions, had been calling him "Taliban Dan" on the campaign trail. Such an outrageous statement is not an unexpected stump device from a first-term House member who has a well-earned reputation for over-the-top rhetoric. But that phrase made little impact until Sunday, when it became the title and catch phrase of a scalding 30-second television ad that took Webster's comments in a religious setting out of context.
The ad shows Webster saying, "Wives, submit yourself to your own husband. ... You should submit to me. That's in the Bible. ... Submit to me." The announcer makes clear what the intended message is: "Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida. ... Daniel Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us."
But Webster was actually trying to convey a very different message in 2009 when he referred to the Bible verse from Ephesians before a group of Christian fathers. After reviewing the videotape, PolitiFact Florida found Webster was trying to counsel the men to pay more attention to the biblical verses that address their role in marriage to "love your wife — even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it." He cautioned that their wives "can pray (submit to their own husband) if she wants to, but don't you pray it."
Webster is a conservative Christian who during his 28 years in the Legislature repeatedly supported limits on abortion and efforts to make it harder for couples to divorce. The influence that Webster's religious beliefs have on his public policy positions are fair game on the campaign trail. But to manipulate video in order to make a case that such beliefs are akin to the Taliban, and its contribution to the deaths of thousands of Americans since 9/11, is offensive. And there is nothing to suggest in Webster's long record of public service that he is anything but a sincere conservative whose personal integrity is recognized by his former legislative colleagues in both political parties.
No single political party has a monopoly on despicable campaign tactics. Grayson owes Webster and his constituents an apology.