Wisconsin has had great U.S. senators.
And Wisconsin has had lousy U.S. senators.
But since 2011, Wisconsin has had a U.S. senator like no other in its history: Ron Johnson.
What distinguishes Johnson, a Republican who surfed into office on the tea party wave of 2010, is not his partisanship or his ideology.
Wisconsin has had great Republican senators in its history.
And Wisconsin has had honorable conservative senators in its history.
What distinguishes Ron Johnson is not merely that he is wrong on the issues — although, just to be clear, this is consistently the case.
What distinguishes Ron Johnson is not merely that he is an unthinking partisan who breaks with honest conservatives to cast party-line votes on behalf of Wall Street interests — although, just to be clear, this is consistently the case.
What distinguishes Ron Johnson is not merely that he has neglected Wisconsin constituents and communities in order to make more time for appearances on Republicans-can-do-no-wrong talk radio shows, where he knows his foibles will go mentioned — although, just be clear, this is consistently the case.
No, what distinguishes Ron Johnson is his consistent disrespect for the intelligence of the voters of Wisconsin.
Johnson got in trouble last week for referring in a radio interview to students in urban public schools as "those idiot inner-city kids." When he was called out for the crude reference, Johnson claimed that he was just "being very sarcastic" about how liberals think.
We will let the senator sort that one out in his head.
And while he's at it, perhaps Johnson will come up with an answer for why his enthusiasts have been treating the voters of Wisconsin as idiots.
A big-money super PAC that is trying to pump life into Johnson's troubled re-election run flooded Wisconsin television airwaves last week with an ad that declared, "Iran is funding terrorism not just in the Middle East but in Africa, Asia, South America and right here in the United States. Some of our leaders, like Ron Johnson, understand that preventing Iran from getting the bomb is essential to our safety."
"Others, like President Obama, insist on signing a toothless agreement that makes us less safe," continued the ad, as the screen featured what was purportedly a photo of a smiling President Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
But, as anyone who bothers to pay attention to global affairs knows, there are no actual photos of Obama and Rouhani meeting because there is no actual record of them meeting.
PolitiFact Wisconsin concluded: "Through an image in a TV ad backing Johnson, Restoration PAC claimed Obama had met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The image shows the two men together smiling and shaking hands. There is no record that any such meeting has ever occurred. That makes the claim ridiculous."
PolitiFact rated the ad, which focused on one of Johnson's favorite issues, as a "Pants on Fire" distortion.
That's embarrassing. (After the error was pointed out, the super PAC replaced the fake photo with separate photos of Obama and Rouhani.) But that's not our real concern. Perhaps Johnson and the partisans who back him were not paying close attention to U.S.-Iranian relations before this agreement was reached.
The real concern is that, even if the photograph were genuine, the ad would still be a "Pants on Fire" distortion. Reasonable people may differ on specific elements of the Iran deal, and it is entirely appropriate to analyze, question and debate it. But to suggest that this agreement is "toothless" is fundamentally dishonest. Former U.S. ambassadors and Cabinet members, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, have hailed the agreement. And for good reason. As the group J Street notes, "it blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and stretches its breakout time from two or three months to a year; it imposes unprecedented international inspections and monitoring; it rolls back Iran’s existing program to a point where it is no longer a threat; and it puts in place a process for automatically re-imposing international sanctions should Iran backslide."
Those are the facts and they are easily obtained and understood — especially by U.S. senators and those who seek to influence Senate races.
So why was the pro-Johnson ad so wildly distorted?
We are not going to call Sen. Johnson and his supporters "idiots" because we do not think that is a fair or accurate description.
Rather, we believe that the senator and his allies are cynical political partisans who have so little respect for Wisconsinites that they treat the voters of this great state as idiots.
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