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.