There's a reason for the dark joke: "Have you stopped beating your wife?"
It's a no-win answer for those who have to respond.
Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson is the latest example. His estranged wife accused Grayson of shoving her on Saturday. He denies it and has released a video that he says disproves her allegations. The cellphone video, shot by a staffer, does indicate that Lolita Carson-Grayson attacked the congressman, but the courts will have to rule on the validity and completeness of the evidence.
Meantime, the domestic squabble has put the sharp-tongued always-on-offense Grayson on defense in the most-ironic of ways.
In 2012, during a debate against Republican Todd Long, Grayson appeared to reference his opponents' divorce and, in defending the accuracy of his ads, the soon-to-be-congressman said this at a debate: “If you’re going to ask anyone, ‘are you still beating your wife,’ that kind of question, ask him”
Long responded by calling the comments "very painful, hurtful... You have no regard for human beings. That’s never happened.”
On Tuesday, Grayson was answering the question about beating his wife.
"It simply isn’t the way she described it,” Grayson told reporters Tuesday in Washington. “She hit me and I retreated. That’s what happened.”
But the political damage, despite the truth of what happened, is fairly standard as well.
Though Grayson hasn't been arrested and no charges have been proved, the allegations of his verbal and physical cruelty are the stuff that campaign attack ads -- and potentially losing reelection bids -- are made of.
Grayson is an inviting target for Republicans. Grayson has compared the GOP to gullible Confederate flag-waving "bigots." And he has been an enthusiastic proponent of pushing the "war on women" attack that accuses Republicans of opposing women's rights, largely due to conservative opposition against so-called "equal-pay" laws and abortion.
"I will tell you that the war on women is being waged by one party in this country against all of the women in this country and that party is the Republican Party," he said at one event. "It's time that somebody called them out."
Let's be clear: The Republican Party is not engaged in a war on women. For a real war on women, look at the deplorable way women are treated in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Yes, the GOP opposes abortion. So it's fair to say they're waging a war on abortion. As noted in another context on this blog, there are big margins of hyperbole in politics. But this falls within the margin of error.
Over-the-top rhetoric is nothing new in our politics (and certainly not with Grayson). But the danger of acerbic rhetoric is that your words can be all the more bitter if you're forced to eat them.
And conservatives, on sites like PJ Media and Twitchy, are making sure that the contrast between Greyson's talk and his wife's accusations against him are not going unnoticed. Is it unseemly to get involved in a couple's divorce? Sure. But that's politics. Politics is paybacks, a type of war. And, since and before the time of Shakespeare, we know that there siege weapons can damage their user: "For ’tis the sport to have the engineer/ Hoist with his own petard."