Rush Limbaugh's attack on Michael J. Fox - he said the actor was exaggerating his Parkinson's Disease symptoms in an ad to better hit a politician opposed to stem cell research - has helped make the TV spot the toast of the Internet. It might help a couple of Democrats in tight Senate races, say some commentators.
Michael J. Fox's 37-second spot for Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Senate candidate who supports stem cell research, is now the most-viewed video on the Web, according to Technorati, with about a million and a half views since it was posted Oct. 20.
It's discomforting to watch for anyone who has watched Fox grow up on television and in films, or who has met him. (I spent a day watching Spin City tape for a profile in the late '90s. Seeing an unfamiliar face, he bounded across the room and introduced himself - the model of poise and self assurance.) On the clip, his head swivels, his body rocks as he tells how Missouri Republican Sen. James M. Talent tried to criminalize research that could have helped those, like Fox, who have Parkinson's Disease.
"What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans," he says. "Americans like me."
Already conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has caused a storm by telling listeners, "he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He's moving around and shaking and it's purely an act."
(Video of Limbaugh's show, in which he imitates Fox's movements, here, via Crooks and Liars.)
The Washington Post interviewed Elaine Richman, a Baltimore neuroscientist who co-wrote "Parkinson's Disease and the Family" and said "anyone who knows the disease well would regard his movement as classic severe Parkinson's disease."
Limbaugh later apologized, saying people have told him they've seen Fox appear that way in interviews. "So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act," Limbaugh said. He added that Fox was allowing himself to be exploited in service of a Democratic politician.
Kathryn Jean Lopez in The Corner on National Review Online had Limbaugh's back. She wrote that the radio host was merely saying what doctors and other experts were saying off the record - "that it looked like he must have laid off his medication to make sure viewers would have a worse-day kinda look at life with Parkinson's."
This does not strike me as an argument that's going to honor anyone who advances it.
Fox, who is making ads for a number of candidates who support stem cell research, wrote of his symptoms in his memoir, Lucky Man, who came out in 2002, two years after he stepped back his acting career as the disease progressed:
When I'm "off," the disease has complete authority over my physical being. I'm utterly in its possession. Sometimes there are flashes of function, and I can be effective at performing basic physical tasks, certainly feeding and dressing myself (though I'll lean toward loafers and pullover sweaters), as well as any chore calling for more brute force than manual dexterity. In my very worst "off" times I experience the full panoply of classic Parkinsonian symptoms: rigidity, shuffling, tremors, lack of balance, diminished small motor control, and the insidious cluster of symptoms that makes communication - written as well as spoken - difficult and sometimes impossible.
Opponents of a Missouri amendment that would increase stem-cell research have put together their own celeb roster for a counter ad. Speaking against it have been ex-Ram Kurt Warner, Kansas City Royal Mike Sweeney and ex-Royal Jeff Suppan, Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel. One blog post, headlines I Love Political Ads, coolly appraises the dueling star power.
Billmon saw it this way:
If you're Claire McCaskill (Missouri) or Ben Cardin (Maryland) this is the best thing since the invention of the teleprompter. Both are running against anti-abortion, anti-stem cell Republicans; both badly need a big turnout among pro-choice, pro-stem cell voters to win. But both are also running in Border South states with large Catholic voting blocks -- i.e. states where the anti-abortion movement is strong and a pro-choice stand can alienate a lot of voters who might otherwise be willing to pull the Democratic lever.
But Rush, in his infinite wisdom, has now ensured that the issue isn't abortion. It isn't even stem cells. Now it's all about Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's Disease -- which is exactly how you don't want it framed if you're the GOP candidates in those races ...