Some loaded pauses are more loaded than others. Sometimes, it’s necessary to preload them.
At least that seems to be the Republican National Committee’s idea.
The RNC posted an attack ad last week using audio from the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The ad portrays Solicitor General Donald Verrilli – identified in the ad as “Obama’s lawyer” – struggling for words, pausing and peppering his statement with “um” and “uh.” Behind the recording, the text reads “ObamaCare: It’s a tough sell.”
However, that pause and those hesitations are not the result of Verrilli grasping for something to say. They are the result of editing, in what RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer disingenuously described as a “mash-up.” In its coverage of the incident, Bloomberg News pointed out that such unflattering edits are par for the course in political campaigns, which is hardly likely to make members of the Supreme Court eager to see wider dissemination of their proceedings.
This judicial reflex, however, is the wrong response. If ever there was a case that called for live video and audio broadcast, the health care case was it – and the Republican Party’s sneaky editing proved it.
If the entire country had seen Verrilli’s argument as he made it, would the GOP’s operatives have been so brazen as to edit his presentation into something so obviously different? The fraud would have been clear to even a casual observer, who would have wondered whether Republicans believe the word “voter” is a synonym for “gullible dupe.”
For those who don’t regularly read my column, let me point out that I am not a fan of the Obama administration. I’m a registered Republican, and I believe the Affordable Care Act is a terrible piece of legislation. I also respect the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on most First Amendment matters, including its Citizens United decision. And it is that belief in free expression and open government that has led me to make the case, on more than one occasion, for broadcast of the Supreme Court’s proceedings.
Will live broadcast prevent misleading and inaccurate quotation of the court’s activities? Most of the time, probably not. People who are in the business of spin and distortion are not going to stop just because they might be called out. They count on the fact that only a fraction of the people who hear a misleading message are also going to hear and be persuaded by the counter-message. Yet this is no reason for the Supreme Court to resist putting the full truth of its proceedings into public view; it is, instead, a reason to ensure that the truth can be found by anyone who cares enough to look.
The RNC ad is particularly galling to someone like me, who opposes the health care legislation and wants to see it overhauled or repealed before it does a lot of damage. The people who produced that ad it should be forced to go sit in a corner and think about the damage done to a creditable argument when they resort to childish tactics. Spicer, the operative behind the ad, seems thus far unfazed. “Are there multiple clips in that video? Yes,” he said to Bloomberg. “The point was that he continually had to stop because he was having trouble making the case for why Obamacare was valid.”
The point, in fact, is that the RNC has provided a textbook example in how to turn a strong argument into a weak position. The bright spot is that this mistake actually strengthened the case for allowing the public to view arguments like Verrilli’s live and uncut, so they can form their own conclusions without political “help.”