Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reason to be concerned about his political future. Despite his leadership post, his reliably “red” state, and his nearly three decades on Capitol Hill, the most recent polling shows the Republican senator tied with an unannounced Democrat.
And we’ve seen McConnell’s anxiety manifest itself in a variety of interesting way. It started back in December, when McConnell aides aggressively went after Ashley Judd, and it continued throughout the spring, when McConnell became the first incumbent to launch television ads – 20 months before Election Day.
The senator’s fear has become so acute that Team McConnell launched the above video this morning, which hopes to exploit the IRS controversy to make the bizarre case that President Obama is Richard Nixon (thanks to Joe Sonka for the tip).
“I think that the leader of the free world and his advisers have better things to do than to dig through other people’s tax returns,” McConnell says in the video, apparently working under the assumption that voters in Kentucky are easily fooled into believing nonsense. (The president never dug through anyone’s tax returns, and doesn’t appear to have had anything to do with the IRS’s tax-exempt office in Cincinnati.)
But it’s the message in the closing seconds that arguably matters most: as the video ends, and viewers see the words “Intimidation. Retaliation. Secretive” on screen, we hear the president say, “We’re going to punish our enemies and reward our friends.”
And that’s a problem, not because Obama said something outrageous, but because McConnell is taking the president wildly out of context in order to mislead the public.
Jamelle Bouie caught the deception:
The ad ends with a quote from Obama, where he seems to admit to punishing opponents of his administration: “We’re going to punish our enemies, and we’re going to reward our friends.” But this is an out-of-context quote, pulled from a comment made more than two years ago in an interview with Univision radio. “If Latinos sit out the election instead of, ‘we’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us’ – if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder,” Obama said in that interview. McConnell’s use of the quote is the dishonest capstone to an intensely dishonest piece of political rhetoric.
Two things to keep in mind here. The first is that McConnell’s dishonesty is simply breathtaking. Obama was paraphrasing the strategic thinking of Latino voters, not saying that he, himself, intends to punish his enemies and reward his friends.
The second is that there’s a remarkable pattern of these out-of-context attacks:
1. The Romney campaign took Obama out of context in its very first television ad of the race.
2. When the president told business leaders that U.S. policymakers have been “a little bit lazy” when it comes to attracting businesses to American soil, Republicans took that out of context and launched a series of attacks.
3. When Obama said private-sector job growth is “fine” relative to the public sector, Republicans took that out of context, too.
4. Obama said public institutions help businesses succeed, and Republicans took that out of context.
5. When Obama said he hoped to mobilize the electorate to change politics from the grassroots up, that too was taken out of context.
Note to Team McConnell: it’s time for a new schtick. This one’s as tiresome as it is deceptive.