Rand Paul fights back:

Chait is saddened by the new ad:

The data points cited by Conway are true; what's gross is the insinuation that if you're not Christian there's something wrong with you. Paul, predictably, has chosen to attack the facts of Conway's charge rather than the insinuation. Thus we have a debate between a purveyor of religious bigotry and a liar.

The original ad has - sigh - split liberal bloggers. What I find telling is that these allegedly political ads are the logical conclusion of a party that is now essentially a religious organization. Of course they are going to trade charges of heresy or sin. They're throwing the Ten Commandments at each other. It's worshipping false idols or bearing false witness. What they do in government is almost irrelevant. Theda Skocpol defends it:

One reason that Dems do not seem to be able to play hardball -- in a viciously hardball political world -- is that Dems often lack conviction or the will to be eloquently honest (for example, on taxes). But an equal problem is that when someone does play hardball, the rest of the prissy liberal Mugwumps tut-tut them about it.

Ezra Klein counters Skocpol:

I have two problems with the ad: First, it takes thinly sourced college pranks and sells them as a calculated and conspiratorial assault on Christianity. The words "secret society" are in the ad. The word "college" isn't. Convincing people that your enemy is part of a secret society bent on destroying or blaspheming Christianity does not put you in particularly good historical company. And in general, I loathe watching every utterance anyone has ever made -- no matter if it is 25 years old -- become fair game for an attack ad. This is why smart, decent people do not want to run for office.

Then there's this question of "hardball." This is broader than the Rand/Conway race, but what, exactly, is the evidence for the widespread Democratic belief that Republicans are ruthlessly effective tacticians while they are wilting violets?

Yglesias doesn't understand what the big deal is. He excuses the ad by calling it "accurate."  He agrees "that the implication that unorthodox religious belief should disqualify one from office is ugly, but it’s an implication that I think is extremely common in American politics." Further:

[W]hat I find most striking about the Conway-related outrage is the lack of outrage over the torrent of xenophobic China-bashing ads we’ve seen from candidates of both parties throughout this campaign season. Accusing one’s opponent of transferring economic opportunities from the United States to China (sometimes India) is a major feature of a huge number of 2010 campaigns. These attacks tend to be factually misleading, and also promote the widespread by definitely wrong misconception that the US and China are engaged in a zero-sum contest for prosperity. What’s more, even granting the factual and analytic premises of these ads their ethics is clearly mistaken. If it was the case that the US and China face zero-sum competition for economic resources, transferring resources from rich America to poor China would be morally praiseworthy.

Serwer doesn't like the ad, but thinks opposition to it is overblown. He lists other offensive ads from this cycle.

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