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September 15, 2008



I think people saw Clinton's lying in a different light, viewing him as a man with personal weaknesses unrelated to his job performance about which he prevaricated. Lying about another person and one's own accomplishment makes one seem vicious and unprincipled rather than humanly weak. It also notable that McCain trades on his reputation for integrity more than anything else. If it's shown that he's traded it away, he's in a world of hurt. Of course, if the electorate's view of him changes slowly enough, then he can say whatever he wants and by the time people find out how fast and loose his campaign has been with the truth, they'll have already elected him. Lying might be a great stratagem.

Bounds seems to be in trouble when trying to defend McCain's campaign even on Fox, the friendliest of news networks:

Nathan Smith

re: "It also notable that McCain trades on his reputation for integrity more than anything else."

I'm not sure if that's true. What about his reputation for physical courage and patriotism? For experience, particularly in military and foreign policy matters? For bipartisanship and the nerve to stand up to their own party when he thinks they're wrong? For toughness and backbone? For reformism? I'm not sure that he trades on integrity *more* than any of these other traits, or that the other sources of his appeal are somehow dependent on the integrity one. Actually, effective bipartisanship probably requires a lot of compromises. And then, at the end of the day, a lot of people are voting on the issues.

I should say: People said the tax-hikes-on-incomes-above-$42K was a lie. Except it wasn't: it had a factual basis, albeit debatable. People are saying the sex-ed-for-kindergartners is a lie; but that's just wrong, as Byron York demonstrated in NR. The thanks-but-no-thanks on the Bridge to Nowhere line omits the probably relevant fact that Palin was "for it before she was against it," but that doesn't make it a lie. "Fast and loose with the truth." Maybe. Who knows? Political insiders are the only ones who know the facts well enough to keep score, and they're too biased to be trusted, almost to a man. If Obama had a well-established public image and enjoyed the people's trust, he wouldn't be so vulnerable to spin. If he'd defined himself in substantive terms, the Republicans wouldn't have such a wide-open opportunity to define him. That's a weakness of the "blank screen"/stealth candidate strategy.


I guess "intentional misconstrual" is not the same as a lie, but the intent and - I would argue - the moral content is the same. People like factcheck.org are not, I'm sure, totally unbiased, but I suppose if there are no standards for truth except what we could prove in a court of law is an intentional and literal falsehood, then sure, it's all spin and everything's allowable as long as one includes appropriate weasel words.

As an aside, I read York's thoroughly unconvincing article, the logic of which seems to be:
1)The bill was not principally intended to allow for teaching about inappropriate sexual contact in kindergarten
2)The bill did insist on a range of medical discussions of contraception, STDs and so on
3)There was nothing in the bill explicitly defining what was age-appropriate
4)Bill 99 legislated teaching "comprehensive sex education" to kindergartners.

This is tendentious, and I didn't see anywhere York offers the first bit of evidence to suggest that anyone involved with bill 99 intended to "mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children before the sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten." All that seems evident is that York is willing to misread the bill.

Nathan Smith

re: "I suppose if there are no standards for truth except what we could prove in a court of law is an intentional and literal falsehood, then sure, it's all spin and everything's allowable as long as one includes appropriate weasel words..."

That's putting it too cynically. Words do matter: they inspire, they shape narratives and public images. They form a vague sort of social contract between politicians and voters, one that can't, in the nature of things, have any very definite terms, but which is ultimately enforceable at the ballot box and so has a real impact on policy. It's not just a matter of "weasel words"; they can genuinely move events and/or inspire. But much of the time they don't go beyond spin.

York makes it clear, at any rate, that the charge of "lying" is baloney. Whether it's more unfair than the abuse of McCain's "100 years" line, or the seven homes that belong to his wife, or the he-can't-type ad, is probably a question with no meaning. But the charges of "lying" are gratuitously nasty, and Dems deserve to, and probably will, pay a political price for such mud-slinging.


So, what, McCain is just unfair/incorrect and unwilling to say so? One could be pardoned for thinking that he intentionally and grossly misrepresented Obama's position (i.e. lied) if, given a chance to correct himself, he did so. But he didn't.

Now, maybe his ads are really true, in which case he's exonerated. If they're unintentionally misleading and McCain is just a victim of bad luck, then he's had his chance to back off. If they're intentional distortions but only small ones then I suppose he's being vicious* but still no more than typically mendacious. Repeatedly harping on discredited claims seems like rather willful lying to me.

BTW - I think the "100 years in Iraq" issue is being misused sometimes, but frequently it is not. Many people view permanent bases in Iraq to be anathema. Qualifying it by saying it's okay as long as soldiers aren't getting killed doesn't help in this respect. In fact, it reinforces the fear many have that our long term goal is to make of Iraq a client state. Thus, McCain's comment becomes extremely telling.

Also, the seven-houses kerfluffle was a product, yes, of the Obama campaign's lamentable willingness to make use of economic resentment, but also because it exploded the "Obama is a rich, latte-drinking, arugula-eating elitist" narrative the McCain campaign had been trying to fashion.

*Obama is being vicious when he harps on McCain calling the economy "fundamentally strong" - it's a little tone-deaf on McCain's part but doesn't demonstrate any real deficiency in McCain's economics.

Nathan Smith

I'm not sure what McCain claim Nato is referring to. As far as I know, none of the ads raise questions of true vs. false, but rather of characterizations which may be judged fair or unfair depending on one's point of view.

I believe the Democrats claimed McCain wanted 100 years OF WAR in Iraq. This seems pretty definitely false to me, but if one's foreign policy perspective is such that one is not interested in such distinctions as war versus permanent bases on foreign territory with the consent of the local government, then I suppose the Democrats' characterization might be true. Similarly, to voters who think sex ed for kindergartners is OK as long as it's selective and age-appropriate, McCain's ad may seem a mischaracterization; to those to whom any sex ed for kindergartners is anathema, McCain's ad may seem fair, the Democrats' quibbling about the word 'comprehensive', hair-splitting, and the accusation of "lying," like vicious partisan bile. It all depends on one's point of view.


The McCain campaign and Palin saying "Thanks but no thanks" is blatantly taking credit for something that was clearly forced on her. Saying that Obama supported "comprehensive" sex education to kindergarteners is clearly an attempt to communicate that the sex education to be offered those kindergarteners is "comprehensive," a willful misreading of Bill 99, which rather includes a kindergarten curriculum as part of a comprehensive plan for K-12 sex education. If that is a mistaken impression, then McCain has had time to clarify.

And yes, some "Democrats claimed McCain wanted 100 years OF WAR in Iraq" but many don't, though if Obama has said anything to that effect I'm unaware of it. It may be he has, though, and that would be reprehensible.

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