Now politicians are not saints, and campaigns are not conducted under oath. We all expect a certain amount of deceit from people running for office, in the form of fudging, distortion, exaggeration and omission. But the McCain campaign’s approach, as this episode illustrates, is of an entirely different scale and character. It is to normal political attacks what Hurricane Ike is to a drive-through carwash.
Take Palin’s claim to have opposed the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere.” Long after it was exposed as false, she kept making it. The assumption behind the McCain strategy is that truth is irrelevant.
Last week, he released a TV spot on education studded with falsehoods. It quoted the Chicago Tribune calling Obama a “staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly.” But the Tribune didn’t say it. I did, in a signed column in the Tribune, which praised McCain’s support for school vouchers for low-income families.
The ad couldn’t be bothered explaining why Obama is wrong about vouchers. Instead, it said his “one accomplishment” was a bill mandating sex education for kindergartners. “Learning about sex before learning to read?” asked the narrator, implying that 5-year-olds would be taught the proper use of condoms before being taught their ABCs. Which, as it happens, is not true.
McCain may be the only candidate who has ever gotten in trouble with FactCheck.org for quoting FactCheck.org. Another commercial showed a photo of Obama while saying the group called the attacks on Palin “false” and “misleading.” But the group quickly repudiated the charge.
The FactCheck article, it pointed out, “debunked a number of false or misleading claims that have circulated in chain e-mails and Internet postings regarding Palin.” The ad, however, “strives to convey the message that FactCheck.org said ‘completely false’ attacks on Sarah Palin had come from Sen. Barack Obama. But we said no such thing. We have yet to dispute any claim from the Obama campaign about Palin.”
The only question now, to my mind, is whether this “McCain is lying a lot and doing itunnecessarily badly” thread becomes a narrative, and then THE narrative, about the Republican campaign. If there’s enough time for that to become the shorthand, the thing everyone knows without needing to explain it, the way everybody “knows” John Kerry and Al Gore lied about stuff. What stuff? No idea, but they’re liars.
There ought to be enough time, in the next fifty days, for this to sink in, to nicely complement the idea of McCain as Old and Tired and Done, that it’s justsad, really.