You know what the problem with the Democrats is: they just don't fight dirty like the Republicans do.
Or so we were told in the wake of the 2004 presidential campaign, when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked Vietnam veteran John Kerry for his 1971 congressional testimony in which he relayed (false) stories that fellow troops had murdered, raped, and otherwise tortured civilians on a "day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
Whether or not you think the SwiftVets' attack was fair (they also raised questions about whether Kerry deserved all of his medals), Democrats can't claim that they suffered defeats this time because they were too principled to engage in gutter politics. In 2010, Democrats far and wide have deployed one of the nastiest lines of attack in recent memory: Republicans don't care about rape victims.
It started back in January, when Democrat Martha Coakley faced off against Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. "1,736 women were raped in Massachusetts in 2008. Scott Brown wants hospitals to turn them all away," read one mailer sent out by the Massachusetts Democratic Party. The attack was false: it was a gross distortion of Brown's vote for a limited conscience clause for religious hospital workers who objected to handing out emergency contraception. Coakley, who personally hit Brown on this issue, went on to lose 52% to 47%, but a number of other Democrats nevertheless have chosen to attack Republicans as insensitive to rape victims.
Florida's Alan Grayson dubbed his opponent "Taliban Dan" Webster and said his Republican opponent "tried to deny battered women medical care." Perhaps the most stomach-churning ad of 2010 was this attack ad by the Georgia Democratic Party on GOP gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal:
An empty Volvo station wagon sits in a desolate parking lot. Its alarm pulses. The driver's side door hangs open. Groceries litter the ground.
"It was my niece," a woman's voice says. "If Nathan Deal had won his fight to weaken the rape shield law, and my niece took the stand, she would have been forced to defend what she wore and that she didn’t deserve to be raped."
"Deal said he was actually trying to make the rape shield law conform to federal standards and strengthen it against possible constitutional challenges," reported Politifact, which gave the ad a "half-true" rating:
In Deal's proposed law, if defense attorneys wanted to include a victim's sexual past, they would make a motion on the issue when the jury was not present. The judge would then hear arguments from both sides in his chambers, and might hear testimony from witnesses.
If the judge found the value of the evidence outweighs the "danger of unfair prejudice," it would be admissible, the proposed law said. The judge would then lay ground rules for what would be allowed in the courtroom.
Georgia's Roy Barnes and Grayson, like Coakley before them, are almost certainly going to be defeated, but this line of attack may have done damage to the Republican in a very tight race for the Colorado Senate. "Ken Buck refused to prosecute a rape case even though the attacker confessed," says the narrator in one Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad against the GOP candidate. The charge is based upon the report "Suspect in 2005 Buck case said he knew it was rape" in the liberal Colorado Independent. From this left-wing blog, the charge dogged Buck to Meet the Press, where host David Gregory made Buck defend his record. Buck explained the case was reviewed by other prosecutors who found there was not enough evidence to prosecute the alleged date rape. The Greeley Tribune, a local paper, explained as much in 2006:
Buck said he and other attorneys in his office spent about two hours reviewing the police reports before they decided not to prosecute. Buck then forwarded the case to prosecutors in Boulder County asking for a second opinion, because that community handles more reported sexual assaults."I thought, if there's anything they can see in this case that I can't, I want to know about it," Buck said. "They sent back an e-mail saying, 'We agree with your analysis that this case is not prosecutable.' "
Though the facts were on his side, the attack on Buck may have been more effective because the alleged victim had gone to the press, on background, saying that Buck had offended her by suggesting the jury might find that she had "buyer's remorse." (Update: Michelle Malkin wrote earlier this month that New Mexico GOP gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez faced a similar attack.)
For all the nasty attacks in 2010--from "aqua Buddha" to "foreign money" on down--the charge that Republicans don't care about rape victims is probably the slimiest. Perhaps Buck and other Republicans can take comfort in the fact that if Bennet goes down in his Colorado Senate race, this line of attack may come to be considered the last refuge of losers.
Update: A reader reminds me that though it's picked up steam in 2010 the "Republicans don't care about rape victims" attack was deployed in 2008 against none other than ... Sarah Palin.