John McCain’s Very Bad Day

This has been a very bad day for John McCain. Besides losing his post-convention lead in the polls as they return to a tie within the margin of error, the media has increasingly discussed the dishonesty of McCain’s campaign. First Read asks if the wheels are coming off of the straight talk express:

For a candidate who prides himself in “straight talk” — and whose political image in part is based on that truth-telling reputation — Saturday proved to be a brutal day for John McCain and his campaign.

First came a front-page New York Times piece noting that McCain “has drawn an avalanche of criticism this week from Democrats, independent groups and even some Republicans for regularly stretching the truth.” There was also an accompanying fact-check of McCain’s latest TV ad, which called it the “latest in a number that resort to a dubious disregard for the facts.”

The Washington Post gave “four Pinnochios” to McCain’s recent assertion on “The View” that Palin never took earmarks as Alaska governor. Then the Boston Globe reported that Palin didn’t really travel inside Iraq as has been claimed. And Bloomberg News said that the McCain camp may not have been exactly truthful in estimating the size of its recent crowds. “Now officials say they can’t substantiate the figures McCain’s aides are claiming.”

To top it off, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said this to the Politico about the increased media scrutiny of the campaign’s factual claims: “We’re running a campaign to win. And we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.”

Not surprisingly, the Obama camp has pounced on all this, issuing a memo to reporters entitled “Unraveling the myth of the Straight Talk Express.” The memo argues, “Since naming Governor Palin as their vice presidential nominee, the McCain campaign has distorted, distracted, and outright lied to the American people about her record in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that a McCain/Palin Administration would be nothing more than a continuation of the failed Bush policies of the last eight years.”

And it concludes, “While the media is slowly starting to call the McCain campaign on their dishonest tactics, McCain’s staff boasts that they don’t care. As a McCain spokesman told the Politico, ‘We’re running a campaign to win. And we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.'”

The coverage from The Politico certainly does not place the McCain campaign in a very good light as they detail their dishonest tactics and how they have decided to say or do anything in the hopes of winning. Isn’t this the same mistake which doomed Hillary Clinton?

Newspapers around the country are posting articles and editorials on this topic, including one in a key battleground state. The St. Petersburg Times outright uses “the L-word” in an editorial entitled Campaign of Lies  Disgraces McCain:

This nation is facing real challenges on the economy, health care, jobs and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are significant differences between how Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain would address them. But McCain’s recent campaign ads suggest the most vital issues are whether Obama wanted to teach sex education to kindergarten children and whether he derided the Republican’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, by talking about lipstick on a pig.

McCain’s straight talk has become a toxic mix of lies and double-speak. It is leaving a permanent stain on his reputation for integrity, and it is a short-term strategy that eventually will backfire with the very types of independent-thinking voters that were so attracted to him.

The sex education ad says that Obama supported “comprehensive sex education” for kindergarten children. Graphics then appear with a voice-over saying: “Learning about sex before learning to read?”

The facts: Obama, while a state lawmaker in Illinois, supported a measure to provide older students with age and developmentally appropriate sex education. Younger children, such as those kindergarten-age, would be taught “age-appropriate” things such as how to protect themselves from sexual predators. The legislation was widely backed by the state PTA and the Illinois Public Health Association. Parents could choose to opt out of any instruction for their children.

But in McCain’s campaign playbook, this responsible legislation becomes fodder for a grotesque distortion as a way to instill fear in voters.

As to the lipstick-on-a-pig controversy, McCain’s campaign has purposely twisted the way Obama used that expression in a recent speech in Virginia. A McCain campaign ad claims that Obama was directing an insult to Palin who, during the Republican National Convention, characterized hockey moms like herself as pit bulls with lipstick.

The truth: Obama used the phrase, which he had used before, to attack McCain’s claim that he’ll reform Washington while retaining the policies of President Bush. After using the lipstick-on-a-pig phrase, Obama said, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It’s still going to stink after eight years.”

McCain’s faux chivalrous outrage over Obama’s purported insult is beneath him. He has been a serious public servant willing to say unpopular truths when he thought it best for the country, but he’s more than willing in this election to put his name on campaign lies. The leader who says he would rather lose an election than lose a war now risks losing his reputation in an attempt to win the White House.

Perhaps the only good news for John McCain today was that Barack Obama canceled his planned appearance on Saturday Night Live due to Hurricane Ike. The bad news for McCain is that much of the country might be watching the season premier of Saturday Night Live with Tina Fey rumored to be returning to play Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin has not been taken seriously in New York as The New York Times ran an editorial on her:

As we watched Sarah Palin on TV the last couple of days, we kept wondering what on earth John McCain was thinking.

If he seriously thought this first-term governor — with less than two years in office — was qualified to be president, if necessary, at such a dangerous time, it raises profound questions about his judgment. If the choice was, as we suspect, a tactical move, then it was shockingly irresponsible.

It was bad enough that Ms. Palin’s performance in the first televised interviews she has done since she joined the Republican ticket was so visibly scripted and lacking in awareness.

What made it so much worse is the strategy for which the Republicans have made Ms. Palin the frontwoman: win the White House not on ideas, but by denigrating experience, judgment and qualifications.

The idea that Americans want leaders who have none of those things — who are so blindly certain of what Ms. Palin calls “the mission” that they won’t even pause for reflection — shows a contempt for voters and raises frightening questions about how Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin plan to run this country.

One of the many bizarre moments in the questioning by ABC News’s Charles Gibson was when Ms. Palin, the governor of Alaska, excused her lack of international experience by sneering that Americans don’t want “somebody’s big fat résumé maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment where, yes, they’ve had opportunities to meet heads of state.”

We know we were all supposed to think of Joe Biden. But it sure sounded like a good description of Mr. McCain. Those decades of experience earned the Arizona senator the admiration of people in both parties. They are why he was our preferred candidate in the Republican primaries.

The interviews made clear why Americans should worry about Ms. Palin’s thin résumé and lack of experience. Consider her befuddlement when Mr. Gibson referred to President Bush’s “doctrine” and her remark about having insight into Russia because she can see it from her state.

After further criticism of Sarah Palin’s world view, they concluded:

Her answers about why she had told her church that President Bush’s failed policy in Iraq was “God’s plan” did nothing to dispel our concerns about her confusion between faith and policy. Her claim that she was quoting a completely unrelated comment by Lincoln was absurd.

This nation has suffered through eight years of an ill-prepared and unblinkingly obstinate president. One who didn’t pause to think before he started a disastrous war of choice in Iraq. One who blithely looked the other way as the Taliban and Al Qaeda regrouped in Afghanistan. One who obstinately cut taxes and undercut all efforts at regulation, unleashing today’s profound economic crisis.

In a dangerous world, Americans need a president who knows that real strength requires serious thought and preparation.

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  1. 1
    Don says:

    You’re doing a great job. I used to really admire Sen. McCain, and find it hard to read these stories.

  2. 2
    Doug says:

    The Times’ quote assumed Charlie Gibson’s quote of Sarah Palin’s prayer (whew) when he said “exact words” was true.  It wasn’t.  How do we know this?  NPR.  The original quote does look at lot more like Lincoln than you’re allowing.  It’s not fair to remove the words “We must pray that…” from a quote and then claim that the following words are somehow dogmatic. Even this Obama voter knows that ‘our side’ is stretching things here and it’s obnoxious.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    I wouldn’t assume that the Times reporter got the quote wrong. Conservatives have been making a number of false claims along these lines since the interview to try to cover for her beliefs. Her quote has been repeated in full in most of the criticism of her, contrary to the claims of her supporters.

    I think the Times reporter essentially got it right. The reference to Lincoln was something they pulled in after the fact to try to cover for her beliefs. The Times reporter is correct in his assumption that this was not what she was intending when she first made the statement.

    They have been engaging in numerous distortions of this nature–and Charlie Gibson actually was pretty soft on her. For example, she covers up her support for banning books which offend the religious right by saying no books were banned. Sure, it is true that no books were banned and the list of banned books floating around in the internet is a hoax. That doesn’t change the fact that she attempted to ban books until she was forced to back off.

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