Q: When is an awkward comment worse than an outright falsehood?

A. When it happens in a campaign debate.

Since last night, I've been thinking about a ridiculous unwritten rule of our political culture.

On the one hand, we have former State Senator Staci Appel. While debating her opponent in Iowa's third Congressional district, she expressed herself in a slightly inarticulate way. Later, she and her campaign staff clarified her position: she supports going through the existing system for revoking passports of people affiliated with terrorist organizations. But what she thinks doesn't matter to her opponents. They will keep twisting the meaning of her awkward phrase over and over on television.

On the other hand, we have State Senator Joni Ernst. While debating her opponent in the U.S. Senate race, she misrepresented a constitutional amendment she co-sponsored, which calls for recognizing and protecting "the inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development." Ernst insisted the "personhood" amendment would not threaten access to birth control or in-vitro fertilization, even though independent fact-checkers have confirmed that yes, it would. This wasn't some offhand comment on a topic she wasn't expecting to come up. Ernst agreed to co-sponsor the "personhood" amendment. Four of her fellow Iowa Senate Republicans and more than two dozen Iowa House Republicans chose not to co-sponsor similar legislation, because they understood its implications. In yesterday's debate, Ernst stood by her support for "personhood" as a statement of faith. She also stood by her false claim that it wouldn't affect birth control or fertility treatment options for women.

At best, Ernst's comments reveal stunning ignorance and a failure to research bills before signing on to them. At worst, she knows what "personhood" would mean if enacted, and was lying during the debate. Neither option is acceptable.

Yet for some reason, the smooth way Ernst spoke during the exchange over abortion rights is not considered a "gotcha" moment. Today, she's probably more worried about news emerging that her husband sued a house painter over unfinished work, when she has spent months depicting herself as willing to resolve conflicts "the Iowa way" in contrast to "litigious" Bruce Braley. I'm sick of trivia dominating our political discourse and elections being about everything but the candidates' real stands on real issues.

LATE UPDATE: Lynda Waddington wrote a good column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Ernst's "personhood" comments during the debate.

  • 2nd Case in Point

    You seem to be the only one speaking up about this??!! Your blog is one of very few making any sense. None of the newspapers (save CRgazette) or TV are doing anything except hoping for the advertising dollars to roll in. (hence the twilight zone questions)

    Your earlier post this week about DMRegisters demise is again relevant here too. Ernst saw Palin get away with this kind of stuff with reporters and says "I can do that!"

    Most reporters today must actually see parity in the situation you outlined above. Reporters today in Des Moines are never taught to discern only to steno. Sad and chilling if Ernst, Branstad and King prevail...all because no one asked the right questions.  

  • That's only half the problem

    I agree that most campaign news is about gaffs or polls, not about real issues.  But that is only half the problem.

    The other half is the way a candidate can transform himself when he gets elected and get away with it.  See Scott Walker in Wisconsin who never said "boo" about strangling unions until after he got in office.  

    Or see Barack Obama who promised he would renegotiate NAFTA.  Once in office he mocked reporters who took his campaign pledge seriously.  It was just something I said during the campaign, he retorted, as if campaign rhetoric is only hot air.

    For many politicians it really is mere hot air.  What matters is their ego, their time in the spotlight, their self-aggrandizement.  In that regard Braley and Ernst may be more alike than different.  

    So pick your poison:  The R version or the D version.

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