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A Childish GOP Ad On Health Care

A childish political ad shows why the Supreme Court should let Americans watch its hearings live and uncut.

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.”

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Bob Ogden April 04, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Gee, Political parties using unfair and downright false ads? Who would a thunk! What's really frightening is the current Court dividing their opinions on party lines.
Scott Walters April 04, 2012 at 03:13 PM
No different than when NBC doctors audio 911 calls....
Chris Marengo April 05, 2012 at 01:07 PM
I heard the complete audio of the oral argument, and Verrilli had a tough time defending the undefensible. It's amazing that an alledgedly seasoned attorney did not anticipate the "broccoli" argument or could not argue the limiting principle behind the mandate.
Mike April 05, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Larry, I have same disdain you do for ploticians and parties on both sides of the aisle doing things like this-I dont think its a healthy thing for our democracy. Its just like the attack ad that we have seen and will see coming as the election cycle heats up. Why do they do this? Because, they work and I think this says more about the electorate than it does about the politcians and parties. I ignore this junk anyhow. What bother me more and is more troubling are the remarks that the POTUS made saying, it was "judicial activism" and "lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law". Whoa. Scary remarks from a POTUS about the SCOTUS. What does he want- an unfettered dictatorship. Rather than a stupid ad froma political party, we should all be conerned about the remarks of the POTUS.
Michael Gries April 05, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Non-thinking people tend to use the simplistic Republican vs. Democratic arguments rather than analyze issues. Both parties use propaganda techniques to persuade. As for "Obamacare", Healthcare is a better non-charged word. Learn about Healthcare from an expert, Betsy McCaughey, PhD, when she speaks at the West Nyack library on April 15th. Ask her how she feels about political parties using the issue for political gain.
John J. Timmel April 05, 2012 at 01:28 PM
The majority of commentators that I have read believe that Verrilli did a poor job in defending the indefensible. Most people who were present in the court room also felt that Verrilli's arguments were soundly trounced by opposing counsel and several of the justices themselves. Even if the ad in question exaggerated some of the pauses in Verrilli's presentation, the fact remains that most people who were there thought that he did an inadequate job in defending Obamacare. If Mr. Elkin wants to complain about some real, serious misstatements and outright prevarications, he need not look any further than President Obama's recent statements about judicial revue and his outrageous mischaracterizations of Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed budget.
Bob Ogden April 05, 2012 at 02:59 PM
John, I give Paul Ryan credit in that he proposed a budget. In my heart I think he knows there is no chance of this ever passing and he's submitting it, is strictly political grandstanding. Whether or not the Supreme Court overturns this law and it has overturned many the things before, I would hope that it's not a 5 to 4 decision because that's just divisive and would reflect poorly on the court. The other thing I would hope for is that someone from either side of the aisle comes up with a plan for healthcare because our hospitals are in a crisis that shows no signs of getting better.
Donna April 06, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Well, it's certainly not the Supreme Court's job to come up with a plan for healthcare. They are not the legislative branch; it's the Congress that needs to develop a law that is feasible, fair, and constitutional. Those who want the Supreme Court to pick out parts of the law that are good and throw out those that are not do not realize that that does not follow our three branches of government. If the Supreme Court decides that the mandate is unconstitutional, I'm hoping that they strike down the mandate and throw the rest of the law back to Congress to get it done right. Congress didn't read the whole law; why should the Supreme Court have to sit there and fix the mess Congress made.
Lisa Graham April 09, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Like the budget Obama submitted? That not one Representative voted for? Obama is the quintessential bloviating grandstander........ Paul Ryan's budget actually addresses many of the critical issues facing this country, like overspending, and Medicare and Social Security, both now doomed to bankruptcy. And no, he's not trying to take Medicare and Social Security away from granny and throw her over the cliff. But, of course, as all the "smart, educated, thinking" people tell us everyday, everything that Republicans do is evil, and all that Democrats do is benevolent and good. (wink wink)
Bob Ogden April 09, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Actually, if you read my post I didn't take any of the positions you're ranting about. I personally think we should have gone with a single payer system but no one had the guts to do that on either side. If you're under 55 years old and somehow I doubt it, you'd realize that medicare under the Ryan plan would be converted to a voucher system. The voucher system will be based on the two lowest cost insurance carriers in the region. I will suggest to you that if that happens your insurance will not cover much of anything and you'll beg to have medicare back. Social Security is not bankrupt nor is it in danger of becoming bankrupt and if you researched it rather than repeating what you hear on FOX you would know that. And finally yes, I am a smart, educated and thinking person. You should try it..
Todd Hannon August 17, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Paul Ryan's Budget doesnt balance the budget for at least another 20 years, which is useless because with the way the deficit is growing our economy will have collapsed by then. The U.S dollar is is losing its status as the worlds reserve currency, we need answers now, not in 2030.

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