Are you sick yet of the political attack ads on television and radio? Me, too.
It’s bad enough that the poisonous tone in campaign commercials degrades our civic discourse.
Even more galling is the degree to which both parties’ ads routinely distort and sometimes blatantly ignore the truth.
Ads about abortion and other women’s issues in two races in our region offer clear examples in this election season of how candidates twist reality.
In the Maryland governor’s race, a TV ad by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) inaccurately claimed that his Republican opponent, businessman Larry Hogan, “wants to ban abortions.”
In fact, Hogan has said consistently that, if elected, he wouldn’t try to restrict abortion. Although he personally opposes it, he considers access “settled law” in Maryland.
What’s more, Hogan publicly favored keeping abortions legal as long ago as 1992, according to a Baltimore Sun report at the time.
(For the record, I strongly support a woman’s right to choose. But I don’t like to see the issue misused, even by people whose position I share.)
Across the river, in the strongly contested race in Northern Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, Fairfax Supervisor John E. Foust (D-Dranesville) has exaggerated the views of his opponent, Del. Barbara J. Comstock (R-Fairfax).
A powerful Foust campaign ad showed a middle-aged woman addressing the camera and describing how Comstock wants to outlaw abortion. That’s correct.
But the woman went on to say Comstock wants to ban it “even in cases of rape and incest.” That might have been true at the start of the year — the evidence is fuzzy — but it’s not anymore.
In July, Comstock disappointed some conservatives by telling an antiabortion group that she supported an exception to allow abortions in cases of rape and incest and to protect the life of the mother.
A convenient, election-year shift? Possibly. But that still doesn’t justify Foust misstating her current position.
On the other hand, Comstock’s campaign wins the dubious honor of airing the year’s most creatively misleading attack ads on a women’s issue.
By lifting out of context one unfortunate phrase spoken by Foust, Comstock has unleashed a barrage of ads that managed to portray him as a sexist who looks down on women.
That’s quite an accomplishment, considering that Comstock is the candidate whose conservative record on social issues is a feminist’s nightmare. As the Foust ad noted, Comstock even supported the notorious bill in the House of Delegates that would have required women seeking an abortion to first undergo a vaginally intrusive ultrasound.
Foust hoped to use that to win backing from moderate women in the contest to succeed longtime Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) in the district, which includes Loudoun and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
But Foust handed Comstock a chance to turn the tables with a single tone-deaf sentence at a campaign event in August. While trying to drive home the point that Comstock’s work as a Washington lobbyist meant she was out of touch with everyday Virginians, Foust said, “I don’t think she’s even had a real job.”
Whoops. Comstock has been a congressional aide, Justice Department spokeswoman and partner at a law firm. Not to mention a mother of three.
Eager to clarify his position, Foust has now said, “We all know Barbara Comstock has had real jobs.”
The damage was done. Comstock supporters have aired a sophisticated radio commercial depicting a phone conversation between two typical Northern Virginia women — one stuck in traffic — discussing how outraged they are by such a supposedly insensitive comment.
It’s no surprise that both parties are willing to ignore or strain accuracy for the sake of winning the support of women voters. The Democrats count on women as a key part of their political base. The GOP wants to wrest away as much of that base as possible.
“We’re seeing across the country efforts on both sides of the aisle to motivate women voters,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
“As the days get closer to the election, the effort to incite women voters a bit, to give them something to react against, maybe by stretching the truth or referring back to a position taken a very long time ago . . . that’s part of trying to engage those women,” Walsh said.
I know the politicians are behaving as usual. For the sake of integrity and the interests of voters of both sexes, I just wish they’d treat the facts fairly.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.