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Democratic attack ad misses the mark on Livingston | Opinion

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A Democratic super PAC that unveils a tough ad on House Republican leadership, reviving old personal scandals, allegations of affairs and government crises. Most of the targets seem like fair game, but the ad misses the mark on former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston.
A Democratic super PAC that unveils a tough ad on House Republican leadership, reviving old personal scandals, allegations of affairs and government crises. Most of the targets seem like fair game, but the ad misses the mark on former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston.  (House Majority PAC ad screengrab)

By Tim Morris, Columnist | The Times-Picayune

A powerful political action committee working to elect Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives has launched an online ad designed to portray past and present Republican leadership as scandal-plagued hypocrites.

The targets include two Louisiana members: Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, the current third-ranking Republican in the House, and Bob Livingston, R-Metairie, who represented Louisiana's 1st Congressional District from 1977 to 1999.

As is the norm in political attack ads, the accusations are based on actual events and then made to sound as sinister as possible.  

Scalise is labeled in the video as "linked to KKK leader David Duke," a reference to reports that then-state Rep. Scalise spoke to a group affiliated with Duke back in 2002. The event became news again in 2014 after Scalise was elected House majority whip.

Scalise has said he was invited to speak to a group in his state House district that turned out to be part of Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization convention. He said he did not know of the "racist nature of the group" and apologized for speaking to them.

"It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold," Scalise said.

With no further evidence of Scalise's connection to Duke or to groups with similar agendas, the controversy has died down, although it almost certainly will be revisited if Scalise gets closer to becoming speaker of the House.

That's essentially what happened to Livingston, who was set to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker when he dramatically resigned at the height of the House impeachment vote in 1998.

The ad says Livingston "resigned in shame," but that is not how I see it.

During the House impeachment debate Dec. 19, 1998, Livingston took to the floor to demand that President Bill Clinton resign over his affair with a young White House intern and the lies he told about it to the public and to a grand jury.

Democrats responded with, "No, you resign. You resign."

Livingston, who had been forced to reveal his own extramarital affairs just days before, then announced that he would, in fact, be stepping down, ending his political career with one of the most powerful positions in America within his grasp.

"I believe I had it in me to do a fine job," Livingston said. "But I cannot do that job or be the kind of leader that I would like to be under current circumstances."

Whether you believe Scalise's explanation and apology or not, it's almost impossible to deny that Livingston acted with principle and integrity when confronted with his own failings.

The rest of the targets in the ad -- Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, Scalise, Jim Jordan, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan -- seem like fair game. But the House Majority PAC misses the mark on Livingston, who clearly did the honorable thing.


Here is the script:

ANNOUNCER: They've shut down the government" [Video of Newt Gingrich flashes]

"Resigned in shame" [Video of Bob Livingston, with the headline "Speaker-elect Admits Illicit Sexual Affairs"]

"Paid hush money" [Video of Denny Hastert in a wheelchair, with a headline "Hastert Paid Sex-Abuse Accuser $1.7 Million to Stay Quiet"]

"And tried to end Medicare and Social Security" [Video of Paul Ryan]

"Here's who Republicans might have to answer for next" [Photos of Jim Jordan, Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy, with the headline "Republicans Brace for a Brutal House Leadership Race"]

"Jim Jordan, remind you of Joe Paterno?" [Video of Jordan, with the headline "Rep. Jim Jordan is Named in New OSU Sexual Abuse Lawsuit"]

"Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan's protege with a lot of baggage" [Video of Ryan and McCarthy, with the headline "2015: 'Kevin McCarthy Quits Speaker Race Amid Allegations of Affair'"]

"And Steve Scalise, linked to KKK leader David Duke" [Video of Scalise, with the headline "Steve Scalise Once Defended Himself Against Links to David Duke"]

"No wonder they aren't looking out for you" [With photos of Jordan, Scalise and McCarthy]

House Majority PAC spokesman Jeb Fain told NPR that, "Past is prologue when it comes to House Republican leadership -- a series of toxic politicians pushing toxic policies. "It's just more of the same with the Republicans jockeying to replace Paul Ryan. Our country can't afford the House GOP's continuing circus of chaos and corruption, and we're going to make sure voters from coast to coast know it."

Jesse Hunt, press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed the ad as an attempt by Democrats to distract from their own leadership fight.

"House Democrats are in revolt against Nancy Pelosi," Hunt said in a statement. "Now her super PAC has decided to launch a slanderous, race-baiting attack to soothe their beleaguered boss's shattered ego."

Tim Morris is an opinions columnist at > | The Times-Picayune. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter >@tmorris504.


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