Monday, November 24th, 2014

Fact-checking Alan Grayson's 'Taliban Dan Webster' ad

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Alan Grayson tries to defend his ad, "Taliban Dan Webster" in an interview with MSNBC.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson — the fire-breathing Orlando Democrat who once described the Republican Party's health care plan as "die quickly" and suggested former Vice President Dick Cheney was a vampire — is at the center of another national political brouhaha.

This time he's linking his Republican congressional opponent to the Taliban.

A new Grayson TV ad called "Taliban Dan Webster" makes a series of biting accusations, alleging among other things that Webster, a former Florida House speaker, wants to make divorce illegal, even for abused women.

The ad opens with images of terrorists holding machine guns and people burning the American flag. "Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida," a female narrator begins.

The ad cuts to images of Webster and a video of him saying "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husband," and "Submit to me," with pictures of a woman clothed in a black burqa, a garment worn by women in Afghanistan and some other countries in the region.

Grayson, a first-term congressman, pulls no punches with his scorched-earth, swiftboating style and has won hundreds of thousands of devoted liberal followers across the country. Those pugnacious and flamboyant streaks also have made him chief prey for Republicans.

His latest ad already has ricocheted across the country, drawing the universal stamp of disapproval by commentators on Fox News ("way over the line"), MSNBC ("negative attack ad") and CNN ("anyone who wants your vote … shouldn't try to get it by insulting your intelligence with trickery").

The ad produced two Truth-O-Meter rulings from PolitiFact Florida — whether Webster thinks wives should submit to their husbands, and if Webster wants to make divorce illegal, even for abused women.

'Submit to me'

The ad intersperses a female narrator's voice with a black-and-white video of Webster.

The first time Webster appears, he says, "Wives submit yourself to your own husband." Then he says, "You should submit to me. That's in the Bible." The ad later repeats a part of that second line twice. "Submit to me."

The audio and video come from a speech Webster made in 2009 to a group of fathers for the Institute in Basic Life Principles.

The institute describes itself as a Christian teaching organization that provides training and instruction on how to find success by following God's principles found in Scripture. Some of its specific teachings are controversial. Among them, the institute teaches that a mother should not work outside the home; that married couples are to abstain from sex 40 days after the birth of a son, 80 days after the birth of a daughter; and that people should avoid rock and contemporary Christian music because it can be addictive.

Webster has been involved with the group for nearly 30 years and continues to participate in training and speaks at seminars. Webster has said that the group's teachings have had a major influence on his life.

One of those institute teachings describes the complementary roles of a husband and a wife. "The man provides servant leadership and the woman responds with reverent submission and assistance," according to the group's website, which goes on to quote Ephesians 5:22–33 — Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. ... Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."

Bill Gothard, founder and president of the institute, said the image and video of Webster used by Grayson is severely distorted and manipulated.

"It couldn't be any more starkly misused," he said. "That gets my adrenaline up. A man who stoops to that level should not be in any office."

Gothard provided PolitiFact Florida with an extended clip of Webster's remarks.

"Have (Bible) verses for (your) wife," Webster said. "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 you're supposed to do. So instead that you'd love your wife — even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it … and, as opposed to wives submit yourself to your own husband. She can pray that if she wants to, but don't you pray it."

Based on the full quote, Webster was telling husbands that they should not pray for the first half of the passage in Ephesians (Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands) but pray for the second (Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it). That's the opposite of what the Grayson ad suggests, thanks to some heavy-handed editing.

We rate that claim False.

Making divorce illegal

Another claim in Grayson's ad is that "Daniel Webster wants to MAKE DIVORCE ILLEGAL." Later, Grayson claims that Webster wants to deny battered women "the right to divorce."

We can deal with both claims at once, since they refer to a bill Webster filed in the state House.

HB 1585, filed in 1990, would have created a form of marriage called "covenant marriage." Under Webster's legislation, the only reason a divorce could be granted for couples who agreed to a covenant marriage was adultery. With Republicans in the minority in the state Legislature, the bill never came to a vote.

But here's what Webster proposed. Men and women would have the option on their application for a marriage license to elect a covenant marriage. Under terms of the covenant marriage agreement, the husband- and wife-to-be would have to have their parents' permission and attend premarital counseling. As part of their marriage license, the husband and the wife would then have to sign notarized documents declaring:

"I, (insert name), do hereby declare my intent to enter in Covenant Marriage. I do so with the full understanding that a Covenant Marriage may not be dissolved except by reason of adultery. I have attended premarital counseling in good faith and understand my responsibilities to the marriage. I promise to seek counsel in times of trouble. I believe that I have chosen my life-mate wisely and have disclosed to him or her all facts that may adversely affect his or her decision to enter in this covenant with me."

A divorce could be granted only for adultery. The bill included no mention of physical abuse.

Though Webster's proposal went nowhere, it paved the way for Louisiana, Arizona and Arkansas to adopt a form of covenant marriage, said Alan J. Hawkins, a professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University and an expert on covenant marriage.

We rate this claim Half True.

• • •

In the end, Grayson's "Taliban Dan" ad is a perfect example of what we've seen too often at PolitiFact Florida — an ad that has a grain of truth and a handful of distortions.

But not in Grayson's mind. He defended the ad Tuesday in an interview on MSNBC.

"The Taliban try to impose their bizarre religious views on the rest of us, and so does my opponent," Grayson said. Later, he said the campaign didn't twist Webster's words.

"We could argue endlessly about whether it's in context, out of context, whatever."

We guess there's a grain of truth in that, too. And a handful of distortions.