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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Reid, Angle Trade Familiar Charges

In Nevada’s Senate race, Republican Sharron Angle and Democrat Harry Reid began airing new commercials Aug. 26. Angle’s attack ad pictures Reid in a "love triangle" with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and repeats some familiar but misleading claims.

Like Angle’s, Reid’s ad covers familiar ground. All of its claims are rooted in true statements or proposals. But Reid goes too far in one case. Angle did not say that "Medicare and Social Security violate the Ten Commandments." That’s his campaign’s interpretation of what she said.

Angle’s ad blames Reid (together with Pelosi and Obama) for "taxpayer-funded bailouts for Wall Street." But in fact the bailout legislation had wide bipartisan support. It’s true that Reid and Pelosi supported the bailout — known formally as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (Public Law 110–343), as did then-Senator Obama. But so did the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and most Senate Republicans. In the House, it was backed by GOP Leader John Boehner and 90 other Republican House members (108 voted against it). The bailout bill was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 3, 2008, and he said he was grateful to "members of both parties in both Houses" for passing the legislation, which his Treasury Department officials urgently sought. "By coming together on this legislation, we have acted boldly to help prevent the crisis on Wall Street from becoming a crisis in communities across our country," Bush said.

The ad also claims that the stimulus measure (which Obama signed and nearly all Republicans opposed) has "failed." But in fact the bill has succeeded, at least to some extent. It’s true that the unemployment rate remains at 9.5 percent nationally as of last month, but it’s also true that the jobless rate has declined from its peak of 10.1 percent last October. Furthermore, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the stimulus bill "[l]owered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points" and "[i]ncreased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million."

The ad goes on to speak of "spending so reckless it led to record deficits and skyrocketing unemployment." It’s true that the federal deficit for the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30 was $1.41 trillion, a record. And the White House Office of Management and Budget recently estimated that the deficit will set a new record of $1.47 trillion this year, the figure shown in the ad’s graphics. But as we just noted, CBO also says the stimulus spending led to lower unemployment, not higher. And as we’ve noted before, CBO estimated that the deficit was running at $1.2 trillion when Obama took office. Bush’s tax cuts and war spending were major factors. (Footnote: Angle’s ad puts the cost of the stimulus at $787 billion, which was the original price tag. CBO now estimates it will cost $814 billion. The cost is spread over several years.)

Extreme or Just Conservative?

Reid’s ad — as the title "Extreme" suggests — seeks to portray Angle as out of the mainstream. Reid repeatedly has used her statements on Social Security and Medicare as Exhibit A in his case against her, as we have written about before.

But in this instance he is reading too much into her comments about entitlement programs, when he claims Angle "says that Medicare and Social Security violate the Ten Commandments." The ad is referring to an April interview she had with TruNews Christian Radio. Angle said that Obama was putting government ahead of God — violating the First Commandment. The First Commandment says, "You shall have no other gods before me." The Las Vegas Sun provides an audio clip and transcript :

Angle, April 21: And these programs that you mentioned — that Obama has going with Reid and Pelosi pushing them forward — are all entitlement programs built to make government our God. And that’s really what’s happening in this country is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.

She does not say Social Security and Medicare violate any commandments. But she did say that the expansion of government programs by Obama, Reid and Pelosi was a violation of the First Commandment. She was warning that such an expansion will make people too dependent on government. It’s a conservative philosophy, and we leave it up to the voters in Nevada to decide if they agree with it or not.

Reid also has repeatedly pointed to Angle’s comments about the Second Amendment, which says the people have the right to bear arms and maintain a well-regulated militia. The ad starts by asking, "What do you call a candidate who says, the way things are going the time may be coming for Second Amendment remedies, an armed response to our government?" It is true that she talked about "Second Amendment remedies" during an interview with Lars Larson, who gives free Second Amendment hats with annual web memberships. She appeared Jan. 14 — a few weeks after the Senate approved the health care bill and tensions were running high. She acknowledged those tensions and spoke of "a revolution," although she did add: "I hope that’s not where we are going." In an audio clip posted by the Washington Post, Larson asked, “Where do you stand on gun rights?” She responded:

Angle, Jan. 14: Well, I qualified for my CCW [permit to carry a concealed weapon] with a Dirty Harry cannon, so maybe that tells you a little bit. But, you know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every twenty years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies. They’re saying, ‘My goodness what can we do to turn this country around’ and I’ll tell ya, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

The Post’s audio cuts off just when she says "take Harry Reid out," but she appeared to be referring to an election not a coup. The National Review wrote that she went on to say: “And it’s not just Nevadans that need to get in this game, we need to all over the nation begin to support those candidates that we believe in, like I said, that have walked the walk, that know what’s really at stake here.”

Less ambiguous is Angle’s position on abortion. She opposes it in all cases, including rape and incest, and believes it violates the U.S. Constitution. The ad says: Angle "says a teenage rape victim should be forced to have the baby." It cites her comments in January to radio talk show host Bill Manders, who asked whether there is "any reason at all for an abortion." When she replied no, Manders asked about rape and incest. She said, "I’m a Christian and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things."

She has not, however, proposed any legislative action to remove legal access to all abortions without exceptions. She has made it clear on other occasions that she is talking about her personal belief. In a June 30, 2010, interview with conservative talk show host Alan Stock, Angle was asked where she stands on abortion in the cases of rape and incest. She said: “Well, right now our law permits that. My own personal feelings — and that is always what I express, my personal feeling — is that we need to err on the side of life. There is a plan and a purpose and a value to every life no matter what its location, age, gender or disability.” 

On July 7, she posted a response to Reid’s criticism: “It’s easy to use rare situations such as the tragedies of rape and incest to skew the debate about the value of human life. … If abortion advocates really believed in choice as they claim, they would be just as eager to present women in these tragic situations with choices they can actually live with for years to come. That was the point I was making.” The nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute studied the reasons women gave for having an abortion between the years of 1987 to 2004. Few women said they had abortions because of rape (1 percent) or incest (less than 0.5 percent). So, yes, it is rare, but it happens.

Finally, as we have written before, it is true that Angle years ago advocated for a drug rehabilitation program developed by a non-profit affiliated with the Church of Scientology. She considered introducing legislation eight years ago to use the Second Chance Program, as it was called, for women prisoners in Nevada. Reid can say she "proposed a Scientology massage program for prisoners," because the rehab program included massage therapy "to drain the body of drug residue," as the Associated Press reported at the time. But Angle never introduced the legislation and no longer promotes its use.