A slightly-over-the-top political ad

Everyone claims that they don't like negative ads but the truth is that they're an effective way for someone to gain ground against a political opponent. So usually it's the political challenger who goes negative against the incumbent. But this being the crazy year it is, more incumbents are vulnerable and going negative. One of those is Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla. You may have already heard of the ad where he claimed that his opponent -- Daniel Webster -- was a draft dodger who "doesn't love his country." In fact, Webster received college deferments but was ROTC during school and reported for his military medical exam promptly after college. People were outraged at that ad so it was perhaps a bit surprising that he came out with an even less truthful one more recently.

Here's the Christian Science Monitor describing it:

Florida Rep. Alan Grayson (D) - the man who once said the Republicans' health-care plan was for ill Americans to "die quickly" - calls Republican challenger Daniel Webster "Taliban Dan" and compares him to "religious fanatics" in Afghanistan and Iran.

On Monday, the website factcheck.org, a nonpartisan site sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, took the ad to task for being blatantly misleading.

It repeatedly runs clips of Webster saying wives should submit to their husbands. But the clips, asserts the website, are taken out of context. "In fact," says the website, "Webster was cautioning husbands to avoid taking that passage as their own. The unedited quote is: 'Don't pick the ones [Bible verses] that say, "She should submit to me."'"

Kudos, first of all, to reporter Amanda Paulson for noting that Grayson has a history of immoderate language. He's clearly dealing with some major issues and the voters seem prepared to find a new person to represent them. And I think it's good to appeal to an independent analysis of the ad. But I really have problems with FactCheck.org. The actual story about what Grayson said is more complicated than they let on, even if he did get the Shirley Sherrod treatment. Here's how they put it:

The full context of the remarks make clear that Webster is not telling wives to submit to their husbands. Just the opposite.

Webster: So, write a journal. Second, find a verse. I have a verse for my wife, I have verses for my wife. Don't pick the ones that say, 'She should submit to me.' That's in the Bible, but pick the ones that you're supposed to do. So instead, 'love your wife, even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it' as opposed to 'wives submit to your own husbands.' She can pray that, if she wants to, but don't you pray it.

Grayson campaign spokesman Sam Drzymala told us that the campaign interpreted Webster's remarks to mean that he believes wives should submit to their husbands. As evidence of this interpretation, Drzymala pointed to Webster's comment to husbands, "She can pray that, if she wants to."

The phrase "if she wants to," though, shows that Webster was not imposing his "radical fundamentalism" even on the people at the religious training conference. Also, the Grayson campaign's interpretation is aided only by selectively editing the video to concoct a phrase that doesn't even exist in the video: "She should submit to me. That's in the Bible." That's a mash-up of two sentences that read: "Don't pick the ones that say, 'She should submit to me.' That's in the Bible, but pick the ones that you're supposed to do."

My problem is with the first lines I excerpted here. While it's true that Webster is not telling wives to submit to their husbands, he's not saying "the opposite" so much as "something altogether different."

My husband and I agree with the description of marriage given in Scriptural passages such as Ephesians 5. This means that I am to follow the "submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" part while my husband is to adhere to the "love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" part. (Full passage here.) I understand that many people freak out about this passage but the weird thing is that they never freak out about the husband's requirement, which is much more difficult.

Anyway, what Webster was saying was that if you're reflecting on a verse about your relationship with your wife, don't pick a verse about her role. Pick a verse about how you are to treat her. So it's not that he was telling wives not to submit -- but, rather, that he was telling men to love their wives as Christ loved the church. You can imagine, in the same way, Christian women being encouraged to reflect on how they can be more loving, forbearing or respectful of their husbands -- rather than meditating on how their husband isn't living up to the role given to him.

Now, what this understanding of Christian marriage has to do with a Congressional race is beyond me, but it is odd to see FactCheck.org attempt to claim that Webster opposes part of it. The progressive Religion Dispatches also criticizes FactCheck.org for inaccurately describing the Institute in Basic Life Principles ("a non-denominational Christian organization that runs programs and training sessions."). It was at their training session where Webster gave his speech. I'm not sure they needed to get into that too much but if other reporters are looking into that group, they should know that it's pretty significant group in evangelical Christianity and not without controversy.

While I will fully admit I'm not well-versed on this group myself, some of its critics argue that there is too much emphasis on the submitting aspect of the marital relationship and too little on the husband's sacrifice, part of a larger authoritarian streak, they claim. Of course, the particular Webster quote in question would indicate the opposite -- and it doesn't change the fact that Grayson might win an award for most deceitful ad of the year.

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