GOP's Message To Voters Seems To Hinge On Fear
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Democrats are accusing the GOP of trafficking in the politics of fear. They say Republicans are out of line on a number of counts: for saying Democrats want a government takeover of health care, for a pitch to donors asking them to help save the country from socialism and for a controversial new ad.
NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reported and wrote the story you are about to hear. But because she has laryngitis, the voice you are about to hear belongs to NPR producer Melissa Gray.
MELISSA GRAY: Fear is a powerful force in the barroom brawl of politics. The latest entry in this year's battle is an ad sponsored by a conservative group that attacks Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Man: Whose values do they share? Tell Eric Holder, Americans have a right to know the identity of the al-Qaida Seven.
GRAY: The ad includes a headline calling the Department of Justice the Department of Jihad.
Here's Democratic strategist Geoff Garin.
Mr. GEOFF GARIN (Democratic Strategist): There's a serious debate to be had and the public is willing to have it, about whether we should be treating these terrorists as enemy combatants or as criminal defendants. But that debate does not translate into the public's mind about whether the people who represent those defendants are pro al-Qaida or not. You know, it's over the top.
GRAY: Liz Cheney, who's on the board of Keep America Safe, the group that ran the ad, defended it on Fox News.
Ms. LIZ CHENEY (Board Member, Keep America Safe): You've got people, we now know in relatively senior positions in this Justice Department, who previously voluntarily represented terrorists. And I think that the American people have a right to know, you know, what are they doing now?
GRAY: A number of conservatives, including Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson, criticized the ad.
Glen Bolger is a Republican strategist who says the ad is inartful, but the controversy over it is a tempest in a teapot.
Mr. GLEN BOLGER (Republican Strategist): Most people believe that no matter how reprehensible murderers or terrorists are, people have a right to counsel, even at Guantanamo. So I'm not sure that there's anything long-term in this.
GRAY: But Bolger adds...
Mr. BOLGER: If they then kind of hounded these people and said they, you know, they shouldn't be in the Department of Justice, I think that's going too far.
GRAY: As for the other controversy, the PowerPoint presentation by an RNC fundraiser that depicts President Obama in white face as the Joker from "Batman," and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as the cartoon characters Cruella De Ville and Scooby Doo, it too has been disavowed by Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): I can't imagine why anybody would've thought that was helpful.
GRAY: Still, says Republican strategist Whit Ayres, there's no doubt appeals like this work.
Mr. WHIT AYRES (Republican Strategist): Emotional appeals work. It's distasteful for people who are not committed supporters, and it really upsets a lot of independents; which is one of the reasons why they're so down on politics in general, and Washington in particular.
GRAY: Democrat Geoff Garin agrees with that and thinks that Republicans could overreach and suffer a backlash with voters.
Mr. GARIN: The more the Republicans only offer them sort of foaming-at-the-mouth kind of anger, the more they're going to seem that they're the wrong solution. This is still a contest for the sensible center in America.
GRAY: And, Garin says, these kind of attacks just might help motivate the demoralized base of the Democratic Party even more than they gin up the already energized base of the GOP.
NORRIS: That story was reported and written by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. But because she has laryngitis, the story was read by NPR producer Melissa Gray.
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