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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

October 1: Holding Republicans Accountable For Extremism and Flip-Flopping

One of the most frustrating recent phenomena for Democrats has been a “false equivalency” meme wherein Republican candidates have been forgiven intraparty pandering to “the base” and congratulated for general election “moves to the center” as though that’s what everybody does. This media tendency has been especially notable in this year’s Iowa Senate contest, where Republican Joni Ernst has benefited from a cynical acceptance of both her extremism and her rationalizations for abandoning it. I dissected and deplored this media vice in a TPMCafe column today:

[Democratic nominee Bruce] Braley has gamely stuck to issues, primarily by hammering Ernst for very unpopular right-wing positions on the minimum wage and Social Security. But he’s also used issues to raise his own “character” issue: the claim that this mild-mannered hog-castrating war veteran woman in the soft-focused ads is actually an extremist. And in that pursuit he’s found plenty of ammunition in Ernst’s record in the Iowa legislature and on the campaign trail, particularly early in the 2014 cycle when she was looking for wingnut traction.
Ernst is crying “unfair,” most notably in an exchange in their first debate last Sunday. Braley criticized her for sponsoring in the legislature a state constitutional amendment establishing prenatal “personhood” from the moment of fertilization, which he accurately said would outlaw now only the very earliest abortions but also IV fertility clinics and several types of contraception. This was Ernst’s response:

“The amendment that is being referenced by the congressman would not do any of the things that you stated it would do,” Ernst said. “That amendment is simply a statement that I support life.”

That’s true in a highly technical sense — perhaps using the reasoning of a trial lawyer — insofar as constitutional amendments don’t inherently create the laws they rule out or demand, but in a more basic sense, it’s just a lie, as Ernst and her campaign surely know. “Personhood” amendments are so extreme they have been routinely trounced when placed on the ballot (twice in Colorado and once in Mississippi). And if sponsoring one of them is a “statement” of anything, it’s a statement of absolute submission to Iowa’s powerful antichoice lobby, in the sense of ruling out any of those weasely “exceptions” to a total abortion (and “abortifacient”) ban.

Ernst’s efforts to escape accountability are more egregious, believe it or not, on other issues:

Democrats [are] calling attention to Ernst’s multiple passionate statements subscribing to the insane, John Birch Society-inspired conspiracy theory that the United Nations is behind land-use regulations of every kind. [But that] is treated as the equivalent of Republicans howling about Braley’s “chicken suit.” The reason, I suppose, is that you can’t criticize a pol for pandering to “the base” during primaries and then “moving to the center” in general elections. It’s just what you do.
I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it. Extremism is, or should be, a “character” issue. And so, too, should be flip-flopping. Personally, I respect “personhood” advocates for taking a dangerous position based on the logical extension of strongly-held if exotic ideas about human development. I don’t respect those like Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst who try to weasel out of such positions the moment they become inconvenient.
As for Agenda 21, anyone who talks seriously about this twisted hoax should be drummed out of electoral politics for good. But just as bad is Joni Ernst’s excuse for why she’s not talking about it now:

“I don’t think that the U.N. Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers,” Ernst said in an interview in her Urbandale campaign office. “I think there are a lot of people that follow that issue in Iowa. It may be something that is very important to them, but I think Iowans are very smart and that we have a great legislature here, we have a very intelligent governor, and I think that we will protect Iowans.”

In other words, the conspiracy to ban golfing and force people out of their cars onto bike trails is real, but Iowa Republicans are so vigilant about it that the conspirators have moved elsewhere.

Democrats can and should call Republicans on this kind of crap, but the MSM should pitch in, too, and if they don’t, they deserve the abuse they so often get for cynical enabling of political vices.

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