Archive for the 'John McCain' Category

Campbell Brown on the Anti-Palin Smears

Friday, November 7th, 2008

I’m not sure what I think about Campbell Brown. I’m generally unhappy with the direction CNN has gone in the last several years; the market has its own inexorable logic, I know, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it that a network I basically trusted back in the day is giving itself a gradual Fox News makeover. Even when I agree with the positions being presented, I still mourn the loss of actual journalism that goes along with the pursuit of loud, colorful, snarky ratings.

But that aside, I’ll say this for Brown: Several times now I’ve heard her make exactly the same “you liars need to be called on it” argument that I’ve made myself about some specific piece of high-profile B.S. As she did here:

McCain’s Khalidi Smear

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Various places have been commenting on this video of McCain’s sleazy spokesperson, Michael Goldfarb, in which Goldfarb tries to save Florida for McCain by creating the impression that Obama is a scary guy who pals around with terrorists and anti-Semites:

There have been two main responses to Goldfarb’s comments: First, there was ridicule at how Goldfarb tried to raise Jeremiah Wright without actually naming him (since McCain has said that Wright is off the table). But since then, there has been even more pushback regarding the smear of Rashid Khalidi, which CNN anchor Rick Sanchez apparently accepted as factual.

Lindsey Beyerstein is one of many people who are outraged by that, in The McCain spokesman and the phantom antisemite:

The McCain campaign is attacking an innocent academic in a way that can only be described as racist.

The man has done absolutely nothing wrong. Yes, he’s pro-Palestinian. That doesn’t make him a terrorist. Yes, he has been critical of Israel’s human rights record in Palestine. That doesn’t make him an antisemite.

If John McCain is too ignorant or too bigoted to see the difference between an academic critic of of the Israeli occupation and a terrorist, he’s even less fit to be president than I thought.

More likely, McCain knows perfectly well that Khalidi is neither a terrorist nor Jew-hater. McCain’s own institute, which is dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights, funded Khalidi’s work in Gaza for many years. McCain appeared on television opposite Khalidi in 1991, which I doubt he would have done if he really thought Khalidi was a terrorist.

Hilzoy on Obama and McCain’s Responses to the Financial Crisis

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Hilzoy has been on the story of Obama’s actual qualifications for a long time now. Her writings on the subject are a big part of why the “Obama isn’t qualified” claims from the Clinton campaign, or the “we don’t know who Barack Obama is” gambits from the McCain campaign, have never resonated even slightly with me. The fact is, he is qualified, and supremely qualified, based on his actual track record, for anyone willing to honestly investigate the question.

The latest evidence of this comes from Hilzoy’s discussion today of the Obama and McCain responses to the financial crisis. This isn’t new, but she does a good job of summing up the differences: Compare and contrast.

Obama is just a man, I know. He will inevitably disappoint, if only because no one could live up to the expectations he’s built up. But when it comes to the actual act of governing, to formulating and implementing well-thought-out policies, as distinct from playing games with Machiavellian politics, he is head-and-shoulders above any other presidential candidate I’ve ever seen. He’s a better candidate than I ever thought I’d have the chance to vote for. And in 11 days he could actually be the president-elect.

To those who still support McCain, I can only say this: I respect your right to your opinion. But I think you should examine your epistemology. With examples like the two candidates’ respective response to the financial crisis, it is clear to me that McCain’s approach to governing is fundamentally broken. He is concerned with crafting the appearance of leadership, rather than actually leading. Obama has demonstrated just the opposite. At each new challenge, he has shown that he is a thoughtful, intelligent, capable leader.

I don’t know what we did to deserve this opportunity. But I know what to do with it now that it’s here.

Did the McCain Campaign Push the Carved-B Hoax?

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

I haven’t bothered posting about Ashley Todd, the disturbed young McCain volunteer who apparently carved a backwards “B” on her face, then told police she’d been assaulted by some kind of rogue Obama supporter. Yes, it’s technically a high-profile lie, but meh, can’t summon the energy required.

But this question is a little more interesting: From David Kurtz at TPM: Who do you believe? Kurtz looks at the evidence for and against the claim (made by two local TV reporters in Pennsylvania) that a McCain campaign official was pushing the story to them Thursday night, embellishing it with extra race-baiting details absent from the police report. Today the McCain campaign denies that they pushed the story, claiming that both TV stations made the same mistake, accidentally attributing to the McCain campaign false information that had actually been provided by the police.

There’s more detail in this earlier story from TPM’s Greg Sargent, if you have the energy to pursue it: McCain Communications Director Gave Reporters Incendiary Version Of “Carved B” Story Before Facts Were Known.

Eleven more days…

Update: Janus/Onan pointed out this to me. It’s kind of mean, but it also made me laugh:

Still later update: So, the following interesting coincidence occurred to me: Both campaigns have now had a young campaign volunteer named Ashley, and in fact a lie told by a young campaign volunteer named Ashley, that ends up playing a key role in the campaign’s narrative on race. Here’s Obama’s version of the Ashley story, as he told it in his “More perfect union” speech:

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Still yet more later update: Josh Marshall doesn’t like it. He gets specific about who was pushing the story (“McCain Pennsylvania communications director Peter Feldman”), and says it is Time for answers:

Our reporting did not find any direct evidence that the McCain campaign’s national headquarters played a role pushing the story.

However, the national campaign has now come forward and lied about what happened in Pennsylvania. McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers has now told NBC that alleged quotes from the McCain campaign in early reports of the story were actually the product of “sloppy reporting” and that they were actually quotes from the Pittsburgh police.

This is simply not credible.

It’s not the crime. It’s the coverup.

Even later than the still yet more later update: Sven wrote to ask what I meant by Ashley Baia’s lie. What I mean was, when the young Ashley lied to her mother about liking mustard-and-relish sandwiches. Though I suppose it’s possible that the whole story is a lie, either by Ashley, or by Obama. Maybe Ashley Baia doesn’t even exist.

Hm, no, apparently she does. A quick googling turns up the following article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Sandwich girl an Obama organizer here.

Anyway, that’s what I mean about her lying: lying to her mother about liking the sandwiches.

The update after all other updates: If you’re still interested in this story at this point, there’s a good followup article with additional details in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: McCain volunteer admits to hoax.

The update that makes the previous ‘update after all others’ into a lie: I just noticed another coincidence: Both Ashleys apparently have found themselves volunteering in Pittsburgh in the closing days of the campaign. What do you think the chances are that they’ve actually met? Or that they might meet now that they’ve both been processed by the campaign newsgrinder? Maybe a joint appearance on one of those hair-pulling daytime reality shows? It’s a little embarrassing, but yeah, I’d probably watch that. And I’m sure I’m not alone. Which means there’s probably a TV show low enough to try to make it happen.

I can no longer keep track of which update this is: Over at 538, Sean Quinn points out that there is still another Ashley to keep track of: The one Bush hugged during the 2004 campaign: The three Ashleys.

The update that dare not speak its name: Greg Sargent at TPM has a followup item: McCain campaign attacks TPM, keeps denying our “carved B” story. In a nutshell, the McCain campaign continues to claim that “the liberal blog post” (TPM’s reporting about the two Pennsylvania TV stations that independently reported that Peter Feldman, McCain’s state spokesperson, told them the story that Ashley Todd’s attacker carved a “B” in her face that stood for “Barack”, after seeing a McCain bumper sticker on her car) “has no basis in fact.”

The McCain campaign is obviously lying about this. It’s not a huge deal; not even a particularly big lie compared to some of the others they’ve pushed — and continued to push — even after the facts are out there in the public eye. But it’s a lie nevertheless.

Powell on Obama

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

It’s already old news for everybody, I’m sure, but I wanted to post this clip of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama today on Meet the Press:

The main reason I wanted to post that is that I’m curious to hear what Craig thinks of Powell’s reasoning. I’m not sure he’s said it explicitly, but the impression I’ve taken away from his recent comments here is that Craig intends to vote for McCain. Now, I know it’s easy to dismiss the partisan japery that gets posted here from some of the commenters, and even from myself. But Powell isn’t some lefty Internet troll; this is Colin Powell we’re talking about here. And he doesn’t just say, “I’m voting for Barack Obama because I happen to like the guy”; he offers specific reasons, specific incidents over the last few months that have shaped his thinking.

So as I said, I’m curious, Craig, what you think of Powell’s argument. Are you willing to state who you intend to vote for, and why? And if you are intending to vote for McCain, what do you say in response to the reasons Powell offers for voting for Obama?

Not trying to be snarky here; I’m actually curious.

Running (and Maybe Governing) Like a Grownup

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

So there was that really weird image from the end of the last debate. Here’s the form I saw it in first, from Kevin Drum’s The campaign in a nutshell:

And I had to think to myself, whoa, talk about a tongue jut!

Here’s the somewhat funnier version Beck showed me later:

And I know; that’s silly and beneath me. A still image can capture a moment out of context. So okay: here’s the actual context:

And being fair, McCain obviously was just making a bit of a light-hearted response to going the wrong way around the table. It was just a momentary bit of clowning around, the sort of goofy gesture I might make myself in response to feeling a little awkward, a little embarrassed, a little out of my comfort zone. It’s a brief glimpse of the real McCain, a peeking out of the real person normally concealed by the campaign facade. And on that level, I appreciate that McCain would do that. It humanizes him.

But in the contrast it makes with Obama’s much more serious tone, it really highlights a difference in temperament between the two. Obama takes this effort really seriously. McCain, on some level, not so much. And really, if McCain can’t take things seriously enough to deal with a presidential debate in a grownup manner, is he really the guy I want to have making decisions on behalf of the country as we deal with the economic crisis and military threats and global warming and all the other truly serious issues that confront us?

I thought about this more while watching the candidates responding to Katie Couric asking them why they thought politicians with so much to lose would risk it all by engaging in marital infidelity:

McCain obviously didn’t want to talk in detail about his own history here, which, given what we know about his history, was probably a good call. But listen to Obama’s response:

Obama: The more I’m in public, I mean, I don’t want to even pick my nose (laughs). I’m assuming everybody’s watching, and it’s an interesting… I’ll leave that to the psychologists. I find that the more I’m in the public eye, the more I want to make sure that people… that there’s no gap between who I am and the face that I’m presenting in the world. You want people to know that what you say is what you mean, and that’s who you are.

That dovetails nicely with the observation I was reading this morning from James Fallows, in OK, I lied, one more thing about debates. Fallows talks about an article he wrote previously, saying:

I mentioned in the article that Hillary Clinton was technically a much more polished debater than Obama through the primaries. She answered quickly and crisply; she always got to her talking points; she was almost always on her game and almost never fazed. The problem was that the deeper identity and personality she presented changed dramatically from one debate to the next. Conciliatory toward her rivals in some encounters, harshly critical in others, the shifts matching U-turns in the campaign.

I remember thinking that at the time. Fallows makes a similar point about McCain’s conduct during the general election:

Again, knowing how things are ending up, it’s easy to see a pattern looking back. John McCain, like Hillary Clinton, has suffered from internal shifts and contradictions in his message and affect. Gracious, high-minded, and bi-partisan seeming in some cases. (The first half of his convention speech; interviews like the one mentioned here in which he pleads for a civil, high-road campaign; his generous remarks about Obama just now at the Al Smith dinner in New York; and of course the identity he cultivated with the press over the previous decade or two.) And on the other hand: the choice of Palin, the Bill Ayers-style campaigning, and most of all his ill-concealed contempt and choler through all three debates.

Obama, like all politicians, has trimmed or shifted on some issues and straddled some mismatched policies. But that it is so hard to find contradictions in his style, personality, and larger “work together” message either says something impressive about his discipline or shows something deeper about his essential nature. To persuadable voters, I think it has come across as “integrity” in the neutrally descriptive sense: that is, wholeness and consistency, as opposed to internal tension and contradiction. What it would mean in office we’ll see if he wins. I think we’ve already seen that it is a huge electoral asset.

I think Fallows has a really good point. It’s what I’ve been talking about when I’ve said how much I wish we had “government by grownups.”

Obama has integrity, in a sense that Hillary and McCain demonstrably, on the basis of how they’ve conducted their campaigns, do not. And while it might be argued that Obama has had the luxury of keeping (mostly) to the high road, by virtue of his lead in the polls, I don’t think that’s fair to him. The fact is, there were some dark days for his team during the primaries, when it looked like Hillary was on a roll. There were some similar dark days in the wake of McCain’s convention bounce and the first wave of enthusiasm for Sarah Palin. Through it all, Obama has remained remarkably consistent. He has run a mostly positive campaign, focused on the issues, focused on challenging the nation to rise above the petty sound-bite politics by which we’ve been led around too often.

I know it’s not over. This is no time to relax. But I’m confident that Obama is the right choice. I have no lingering doubts about that. However this chapter in our national history turns out, he is leading us in the right direction. Despite who he is, the weird name and “exotic” background and (of course) the color of his skin, the country is ready to follow him.

I’ve been enjoying reading about the Obama field organization lately. Here’s one of my favorite stories, from Sean Quinn at fivethirtyeight.com: On the road: Western Pennsylvania.

So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: “We’re voting for the n***er.”

Me too.

LAT Editors: Who Can Heal This Rift?

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

I actually really liked the lead editorial in the Los Angeles Times today. I realize they’re cutting editorial staff left and right to align themselves with the new paradigm, but apparently they still have an editor or two who’s thinking about what it all means.

From Bringing us together.

McCain since has tried to cool off his supporters, but he lit this fire — he and no one else is responsible for those who shriek at Palin’s rallies, who proclaim that Obama is an Arab and who wish him harm. This campaign is more crass and more virulent because McCain made it so. That Palin has ended up alienating not only moderates but also conservatives is this race’s enduring irony.

On the question of who will best bind up this torn nation, we are far more troubled by what we know about McCain than what we don’t know about Obama. It is proper to admire McCain’s service to his nation — as a military man and as a senator — and he deserves our respect. On the question of who best can reunite us, however, we cannot put our faith in a man who has done so much to drive us apart.

McCain Tones Things Down?

Friday, October 10th, 2008

I don’t know if it’s sincere, or if he’s just playing Good Cop to Palin’s Bad Cop, but McCain apparently made some real effort to tamp down the lynch-mob thing today. From Ana Marie Cox: McCain Denounces Pitchfork-Wavers:

But then something weird happens: He acknowledges the “energy” people have been showing at rallies, and how glad he is that people are excited. But, he says, “I respect Sen. Obama and his accomplishments.” People booed at the mention of his name. McCain, visibly angry, stopped them: “I want EVERYONE to be respectful, and lets make sure we are.”

The very next questioner tried to push back on this request, noting that he needed to “tell the American the TRUTH about Barack Obama” — a not very subtle way, I think, to ask John McCain to NOT tell the truth about Barack Obama. McCain told her there’s a “difference between record and rhetoric, and I plan to talk about his record, respectfully… I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean it has to be respectful.”

And then later, again, someone dangled a great big piece of low-hanging fruit in front of McCain: “I’m scared to bring up my child in a world where Barack Obama is president.”

McCain replies, “Well, I don’t want him to be president, either. I wouldn’t be running if I did. But,” and he pauses for emphasis, “you don’t have to be scared to have him be President of the United States.” A round of boos.

And he snaps back: “Well, obviously I think I’d be better. ”

Of course, this is kind of the best of both world: Crazy base-world gets to bring up Ayers and whatever else, really, and he gets to say, “Be respectful.” But I think he means it.

UPDATE: Indeed, he just snatched the microphone out the hands of a woman who began her question with, “I’m scared of Barack Obama… he’s an Arab terrorist…”

“No, no ma’am,” he interrupted. “He’s a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements.”

As I said, I don’t know how much faith to put in it. But it’s a good thing, regardless.

Update: Josh Marshall’s take: Weird. Sad. Surreal. Includes this video:

Marshall is fairly dismissive of McCain’s motivation. But, I don’t know; call me a putz, but I had pretty much the same reaction to this footage that I had to Hillary tearing up in the final days of the primary campaign in New Hampshire: it affects me on an emotional level. When McCain shakes his head at that woman at the end of the clip, takes the mic back from her, and tells her no, that Obama is a “decent family man,” I found myself feeling proud of McCain.

Which is not at all what I expected to be feeling toward him tonight.

Greg Sargent on Big Media on McCain/Palin’s Inciting Their Crowds

Friday, October 10th, 2008

An interesting-to-me item from Greg Sargent at TPM: Note To News Orgs: McCain And Palin Are Largely Responsible For Unhinged Tone At Their Rallies.

The news orgs are beginning to weigh in with big takes on what is unquestionably one of the most important stories of Campaign 2008: The pathologically-unhinged tone that McCain-Palin supporters are displaying at rallies of late.

The New York Times has a write-up here; The Washington Post has one here, and The Politico has one here.

This is a welcome development, and the stories are pretty good. But the news orgs are still dancing around the central story here: That McCain and Palin themselves are largely responsible for what’s happening.

Deanie Mills on Thinking Conservatives

Friday, October 10th, 2008

I’m curious what my favorite “thinking conservative” (Craig, I mean) thinks about this: Hell just froze over.

I’ve been following some of the back-and-forth in the comments on my last-but-one post, and I gather that Craig thinks Obama should have been more forthcoming about the real nature of his relationship with Bill Ayers. My own take on that is that Obama gave it as much forthcomingness as it deserved, back when Hillary raised it in the primary, and I don’t see why he’s obligated to say more about it now. But I’m willing to set that aside, and agree to disagree. Because I think we have more important things to talk about.

Craig, I wonder how you feel about the tactics being used at the McCain and Palin rallies over the last few days. I wonder if your views are similar to those of the “thinking conservatives” that Mills talks about in the piece I linked to above. And mostly, I wonder if you believe a case can be made that, given the realities of what the two campaigns have been saying lately, John McCain and Sarah Palin really are the best choice to lead the country for the next four years.

I’m willing to give such a case my careful, honest, sober consideration. And of all the people I can think of who might be willing to make it, I think you’re probably my best shot at getting it.

Sarah Palin Campaign Art by Zina Saunders

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

This art by Zina Saunders is totally cool:

Definitely worth visiting her site (or her blog) to browse around.

McCain’s Tongue

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Things are going to go downhill in the closing days of the campaign; we all know it. In honor of the coming descent into complete lack of substance, I offer the following actually-fairly-interesting (at least to me) item from 538.com: The tongue jut.

Here’s the video that accompanies the article (but see the article for the full discussion):

After reading that, check out this video of McCain defending the accuracy of the “Obama supports sex education for kindergartners” ad, from a meeting today with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register. Pay particular attention to McCain’s tongue:

So, any poker players in the lies.com readership? What do you think of the tongue-jut-as-tell theory?

America Won’t Bail

Monday, September 29th, 2008

With the failure today of the bailout bill that party leaders cobbled together, not only has the stock market further collapsed, but the utter political strangeness of the situation has reached a pinnacle. This whole mess has a can’t-look-away quality to it. Pelosi blames Bush for the mess, Republicans blame Pelosi for poisoning the caucus, presidential candidates blame each other for the bill’s failure, and as never before in my memory the talk has very clearly nothing to do with reality.

Let’s examine motivations:

  • Bush is a lame duck and wants to secure his legacy by not screwing this up.
  • Either Obama or McCain will be President-elect in a month or so, and making the wrong decision on an issue this large could be deadly.
  • Party leaders want to take credit for their party.
  • Rank-and-file congressmen are shortly up for election and desperately want to not piss off their constituency.

And then the results:

  • Bush puts forth an enormous proposal with no accountability or oversight, but is astoundingly willing to add the oversight back in to the bill when challenged.
  • Obama and McCain both support the bill, but say almost nothing about it except that it should be passed quickly.
  • Party leaders on both sides support the bill, seem infurated with rank-and-file congressmen when they fail to pass it, blame each other.
  • Rank-and-file congressmen (R moreso than D, Bush be damned) hate the bill, due to significant outrage from their constituency, and kill it.

When you look at the pretty clear (and strong) motivations, the resulting actions make sense. But played as a right vs. left battle, it’s mass hysteria and confusion.

So what’s the outcome of all this? The American people seem to have come together, without regard to party, to kill this bill through pressure on our elected representatives, despite the wishes of the powerful of both parties. As a result, we’ve given ourselves one of the largest stock crashes in history and we’ve caused a large number of powerful people to soil themselves. I don’t know if I should be afraid or proud.

Where To From Here?

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

It’s pretty much an immutable law of nature that political campaigns become uglier, not prettier, as election day approaches. The McCain campaign, in particular, has demonstrated that they’re willing to go really low way in advance. But that doesn’t mean they can’t descend further.

Still, knowing that from an intellectual standpoint is not the same as processing it emotionally. So I think I’m in for a series of mental shocks between now and November 4. A preview of things to come is this story in the Sunday Times of London: McCain camp prays for Palin wedding:

Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.”

Yeah. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Besides increasing ugliness, the other thing I think I can safely predict at this point is increasing funny from Tina Fey’s Palin impersonation in SNL’s opening skit. Like the latest one, here:

I’m not sure how obvious it is for someone who didn’t just finish editing together an hour-long podcast of Palin quotes, but Fey’s biggest laugh line, toward the end, was essentially a word-for-word re-enactment of Palin’s scariest response in the real Katie Couric interview.

Sarah Palin’s America: Where the comedy writes itself.

In Which I Write a Cranky Letter to Cathleen Decker of the LA Times

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

From: jbc@lies.com
Subject: Yes, but why does it work?
Date: September 14, 2008 10:31:50 AM PDT
To: cathleen.decker@latimes.com
Cc: letters@latimes.com

As your article (“Why do politicians fudge the truth? Because it works”) correctly points out, politicians lie because it helps them win elections. What your article fails to do, though, is to pose, and answer, the obvious followup question: Why does it work? And how is it that a politician can do what the McCain campaign has been doing for the last week and a half (that is, lie blatantly and repeatedly, even continuing to use the same lies after they have been exposed as such) without paying a price for it in terms of public support?

In part, they can do it because of lazy, irresponsible journalism that presents a false equivalence between two things that are not equal. The premise of your piece is that both the McCain campaign and the Obama campaign are engaged in what is essentially the same sort of dishonesty. That is objectively, verifiably false. The McCain campaign is being much more dishonest than the Obama campaign. In fact, the McCain campaign is being more dishonest than any presidential campaign I’ve seen over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been setting new standards for truthfulness. (I will grant you, given the nature of our political campaigns, that that is not a very high bar. But Obama is clearing it. Just as McCain’s tactics represent a new low.)

I don’t know why your article does such a poor job of portraying this reality. I don’t know if it is the result of incompetence and inexperience, or of a cynical decision-making process. I don’t know if you, as the reporter, were primarily to blame, or if the fault lies more with your editors. I do know this, however: As professional journalists in general, and newspaper reporters in particular, struggle to maintain their relevance in the marketplace of ideas, they can’t abandon their primary professional obligation: The accurate reporting of objective truth. Your article fails that test, and fails it badly.

John Callender
jbc@lies.com

http://www.lies.com/

Update:

From: Cathleen.Decker@latimes.com
Subject: Re: Yes, but why does it work?
Date: September 14, 2008 11:53:19 AM PDT
To: callender.john@gmail.com

The article includes 18 paragraphs on McCain misstatements, to 2 for Obama. Twice it says McCain has been more egregious. I don’t think the full story suggests an equivalence.
Thank you for reading and conversing.
Cathy
Cathleen Decker
State Politics Editor
Los Angeles Times
Cathleen. Decker@latimes. Com

From: callender.john@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Yes, but why does it work?
Date: September 14, 2008 12:59:50 PM PDT
To: Cathleen.Decker@latimes.com

On Sep 14, 2008, at 11:53 AM, Decker, Cathleen wrote:

> The article includes 18 paragraphs on McCain misstatements,
> to 2 for Obama. Twice it says McCain has been more egregious.
> I don’t think the full story suggests an equivalence.

Where does the article say McCain has been more egregious? I can see only one suggestion of that, not two, and the statement is made only indirectly:

‘Political innocents may wonder why a candidate like McCain, whose campaign is premised on what he calls “straight talk” — and to a lesser extent Obama — have veered from the flat truth.’

It’s not immediately clear what that “and to a lesser extent Obama” is referring to. Are you saying that Obama’s campaign has “veered from the flat truth” to a lesser extent than McCain’s? Or that Obama’s campaign is premised on “straight talk” to a lesser extent than McCain’s?

Again, as I stated in my email, this stops short of unambiguously pointing out the objective reality: McCain’s campaign is setting a record for lies, stating outright falsehoods in official campaign advertising and stump speeches, and doing so repeatedly, even after the claims have been publicly and authoritatively debunked by unaffiliated third parties. Meanwhile, Obama’s campaign is guilty of the occasional assertion that, while factually true, could be suspected of creating a misleading impression in voters’ minds. Those two things simply aren’t the same, yet they are presented as such.

Taking the article’s first 6 graphs, I definitely see a suggestion of equivalence. While it’s true that nearly all the specific examples given in the full article are of McCain falsehoods, and that this might lead a reader who is bothering to keep score to the conclusion that McCain’s sins are worse, the article does not state that objective fact — which you clearly are aware of — in clear, unambiguous terms. Why not? That point is central to what your article is _about_. To fail to state it prominently and unambiguously amounts to a lie of omission.

The Obama campaign has actually done a decent job of adhering to the high-road promises he made early on about how he would conduct himself. He has done so even in the face of some low-road campaigning from the Clinton campaign during the primary, and has continued to do so in the face of McCain’s post-convention lies. Yet you characterize the situation like this:

‘Both major party candidates for president vowed to run a different kind of campaign, implicitly promising a break from the spin-fests that past contests had become. But the close race and the tumultuous media environment in which McCain and Obama now find themselves appear to have crushed those notions.’

Yes: the campaign has crushed those notions — but only because the McCain campaign has done the exact opposite of what it promised to do, while the Obama campaign has largely remained true to its promise. To characterize that as the fault of the “close race” and the “tumultuous media environment” is to go out of your way to avoid stating the simple truth: This has happened specifically because the McCain campaign has chosen to blatantly violate the norms of presidential candidate truth-telling (such as they are).

I encourage you to think carefully about the role your own work is playing in this process. The McCain campaign would like to mislead low-information voters by making charges it knows to be untrue, counting on reporters like you to let them off the hook, as you did in today’s article. You owe your readers more than that. You owe them the truth. When you fail to give it to them (as you failed today), you let all of us down.

John Callender
jbc@lies.com

http://www.lies.com/

More Fallows: Palin on the Bush Doctrine

Friday, September 12th, 2008

This is not just “gotcha”. Palin’s clear lack of familiarity with what “the Bush Doctrine” means tells us something about who she is, as James Fallows explains in the Palin interview.

But first, let’s go to the tape:

Here’s Fallows:

Each of us has areas we care about, and areas we don’t. If we are interested in a topic, we follow its development over the years. And because we have followed its development, we’re able to talk and think about it in a “rounded” way. We can say: Most people think X, but I really think Y. Or: most people used to think P, but now they think Q. Or: the point most people miss is Z. Or: the question I’d really like to hear answered is A.

Here’s the most obvious example in daily life: Sports Talk radio.

Mention a name or theme — Brett Favre, the Patriots under Belichick, Lance Armstrong’s comeback, Venus and Serena — and anyone who cares about sports can have a very sophisticated discussion about the ins and outs and myth and realities and arguments and rebuttals.

People who don’t like sports can’t do that. It’s not so much that they can’t identify the names — they’ve heard of Armstrong — but they’ve never bothered to follow the flow of debate. I like sports — and politics and tech and other topics — so I like joining these debates. On a wide range of other topics — fashion, antique furniture, (gasp) the world of restaurants and fine dining, or (gasp^2) opera — I have not been interested enough to learn anything I can add to the discussion. So I embarrass myself if I have to express a view.

What Sarah Palin revealed is that she has not been interested enough in world affairs to become minimally conversant with the issues. Many people in our great land might have difficulty defining the “Bush Doctrine” exactly. But not to recognize the name, as obviously was the case for Palin, indicates not a failure of last-minute cramming but a lack of attention to any foreign-policy discussion whatsoever in the last seven years.

As someone who has been noticing the disturbing similarities between Sarah Palin and George W. Bush, I also liked this part of Fallows’ piece:

A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:

1) Ignorance
2) Lack of curiosity
3) “Decisiveness”

That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.

We don’t know about #2 for Palin yet — she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.

The point about Palin’s similarity to Bush is underscored by another part of her Gibson interview, a part that Fallows had not seen yet when he wrote the above:

Charles Gibson, the interviewer, asked her if she didn’t hesitate and question whether she was experienced enough.

“I didn’t hesitate, no,” she said.

He asked if that didn’t take some hubris.

“I answered him yes,” Ms. Palin said, “because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t blink. Like George Bush before her, she doesn’t let concerns about her own preparedness or suitability for the task at hand get in the way of confidently and forcibly injecting herself into the center of things. But as we’ve seen with George Bush, that sort of self-confidence is not, in and of itself, a predictor of success.

Leadership, as I’ve said before, is not just having the courage of your convictions, a willingness to take a tough stand and stick with it in the face of nay-sayers. To qualify as a visionary leader, you have to do those things, and then be proven right by subsequent events. If that doesn’t happen, if subsequent events make it clear that actually no, it was those people who voiced concerns about your plan, over whom you ran roughshod in your zeal to provide “leadership”, who were right, then you aren’t a visionary leader. You’re just a stubborn doofus who will confidently lead anyone foolish enough to follow over the edge of a cliff.

I find myself thinking about political conservatives’ grumbling about the dangers of school programs that try to teach all children that they have value, to foster a self-esteem that is disconnected from actual objective accomplishments. I wonder what role such programs might have played in the early psychological development of people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. Does such teaching create an environment in which an insecure person can seize on aggressive self-promotion, the nurturing of an out-of-control, outwardly projected self-confidence, as a tool to rise above those with greater abilities but less hubris?

I think it’s probably not the schools’ fault. I think it’s more likely that it’s the parents that are to blame. Again, I’ve written previously about my belief that Bush’s personality defects were probably the result of a really awful upbringing at the hands of an over-achieving, inaccessible father and a vicious, unloving mother. I don’t know anything about Sarah Palin’s upbringing, but if it turns out that she faced similar challenges as a young child, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Here’s a batch of snarky video clips. Consider this my tribute to the restraint the Obama campaign has been showing in not sinking to McCain’s level:

Drum on the Media’s Declaration of Irrelevance

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

There’s been a sudden flurry of discussion centering around the specific topic that is this blog’s raison d’etre, so I wanted to mention it.

The Obama campaign started running this attack ad today, in which they actually use the “L” word to describe McCain/Palin’s pushing of the Bridge to Nowhere lie:

And this raises a really interesting question: How is the media going to handle this? Are they going to report the factual truth (that McCain and Palin are flat-out lying, and in a way that has been demonstrated to be a lie)? Or are they going to report it as just another controversy between two sides?

It kind of matters. McCain/Palin are making an explicit strategy out of selling a version of their biographies that, at least in her case, is directly contradicted by the facts. (The version of McCain’s biography they’re trying to sell is also dishonest and false-to-fact, but in a less stark way than Palin’s.) See this item in the Washington Post, for example: McCain, Palin push biography, not issues.

Steve Benen had a really interesting write-up of some back-and-forth that happened on CNN about this (Making a story “stick”):

Roberts wrapped up the segment, concluding, “We still have 56 days to talk about this back and forth.”

But therein lies the point. The nation doesn’t need 56 days of “back and forth.” We don’t need 56 seconds of “back and forth.” There’s an objective truth here, and CNN, as a neutral, independent news source, is supposed to tell viewers what the facts are.

But CNN can’t do that, because reality has a well known liberal bias. If Roberts conceded that Begala was telling the truth about demonstrable facts, then he’d be “taking sides.” For a media figure to acknowledge that a candidate for national office is lying shamelessly would be wholly unacceptable — it would break with the “balance” between competing arguments.

The viewer at home hears one side, then the other. Who’s right? That’s not CNN’s problem.

Glenn Greenwald chimed in today on a dispute between Marc Ambinder and Matt Yglesias involving the media’s handling of the Bridge to Nowhwere story, where Ambinder wrote:

To move to a Greenwaldian debate about the duties, obligations and frustrations of the press — well — read elsewhere if you want to play that game. I’ll abstain.

But Ambinder, who writes for The Atlantic, is a professional journalist, and as Greenwald points out, he does have an obligation to report that blatant lies are, in fact, blatant lies. That journalists have been increasingly willing to be played by liars lately, that they’ve reached the point where they now feel at liberty to mock, as Ambinder does, the idea that they have a duty to report the truth as they know it, is really quite significant, it seems to me.

Kevin Drum, in A bridge to somewhere, had this to say:

And not to get too sanctimonious about this, but this really is a test of some kind for the press. This lie is unusually egregious given the plain facts of the situation (Palin was eagerly supportive of the bridge until after Congress pulled the earmark, at which point she reluctantly decided to take the money but use it for other projects), and if the media allows the McCain campaign to get away with this – if they relegate it to occasional closing paragraphs and page A9 fact checks – well, that means McCain knows he can pretty much get away with anything. The press will be writing its own declaration of irrelevance.

I think that hits it on the head. If the mainstream news media aren’t going to tell the truth about this (I don’t mean the Fox News-style media here, but the real media), then it will mean a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between them and me.

This Is Not 2004

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

There’s some gloom and doom floating around, especially from those who were already in something of a gloom-and-doom place. Adam at Mighty Forces writes in Taking the high road:

Every time Barack Obama says some variation of “I trust the judgment of the American people,” I hear one word:

LOSER.

I feel bad for Adam. I think he’s suffering from Battered Voter Syndrome, identifying with his aggressor. I think it’s probably similar to what has brought John McCain to his current place (not speaking so much of his time in a Vietnamese prison cell, but of his defeat in the 2000 presidential election at the hands of the same cynical, dishonest operatives that he’s allied himself with now).

I don’t want to come off like a Pollyanna. But I think there’s plenty of reason for hope. I offer the following evidence:

1. The polls, and the fundamental rejection of the current administration. Not the day-to-day noise and the predictable (and predictably short-lived) post-convention bounce McCain is enjoying, but the deeper realities of what the numbers actually show, overall. This is not 2004. McCain is not Bush (his proposed policies notwithstanding). Obama is not Kerry.

I’m not convinced it’s really useful to pay too much attention to polls anyway, but if you’re going to, at least do it right; you can’t freak out over every jitter. See the following from Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com for an example of what I mean by “doing it right”: First look at the new electoral map.

At a macro level, these numbers seem like basically good news for Obama, since the overall numbers in swing states haven’t moved much at all – just shifted around some from region to region. McCain is polling about 3 points better right now than he was at the pre-convention equilibrium. It’s possible that those 3 points are manifesting themselves mostly in states that were already very red. Maybe Obama will lose Idaho and Nebraska and Alabama by 30 points rather than 20, but that doesn’t help McCain very much electorally (an exception might be in a state like Indiana).

In other words, I suspect that the probability of Obama winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote probably increased as a result of the post-convention dynamics. If you literally just looked at the polling out today, McCain would win the popular vote by 2-3 points, but Obama would probably be at least even money in the electoral college, by just barely holding onto Michigan and Pennsylvania and then either winning the Colorado/Iowa/New Mexico parlay, or perhaps Florida.

2. The comments of Talking Points Memo reader JA, as quoted by Josh Marshall in Change:

The McCain campaign wanted to frame this election on experience, but had to abandon that when the polls didn’t move. The surge issue has likewise attracted no great interest. Although McCain continues to discuss it, as a theme, he has ditched it in favor of this murky “change/reform” theme. (By selecting Sarah Palin, the campaign has officially ceded the point.) This all works to Obama’s advantage because if the discussion becomes one of change, it must necessarily shift to policy–the last place McCain wants to go. But he’s backed himself into a corner.

Obama has run his general campaign with exactly the kind of pacing he ran the primary. It’s not always clear why he’s doing certain things because they don’t correspond to the daily news cycle. That’s because he has planned the entire campaign in advance. You can see how he’s hit his marks as he’s gone along: after he won the primary, he immediately tacked right and demonstrated his “working across the aisles” theme. The trip abroad was designed to elevate him to a presidential figure and deflate the claims of his inexperience. The convention was a way to simultaneously build momentum among the base and lay a foundation for elevating the discussion above Rovian BS and placing it directly on issues via the change argument.

3. Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community, in Don’t panic:

New national polls suggest that McCain has gotten a solid bounce out of the GOP convention. But let’s keep a few things in mind:

1) These polls suggest a race that is dead-even.

2) This is close to the high water-mark for the Republicans: all three polls were taken entirely after the convention.

3) There is no record of a convention bounce NOT fading.

In other words, Obama is still in very good shape. This hardly means anything is in the bag, but with the fundamentals so strongly leaning Democratic, I’d rather be in our position than theirs. They’ve had a week’s worth of uninterrupted campaign ads, and they still can’t establish a lead.

One is tempted to recall Muhammed Ali’s question to George Foreman at the end of the 7th round of the Rumble in the Jungle: “Is that all you got?” Ali knocked him out in the next round.

Give money. Go to Nevada. Go to New Mexico. Go to Virginia. Go to Ohio. Call. Knock on doors. We’re going to win this.

I’m not all sunshine-and-rainbows myself; I thought this contest would be over by now, and it’s clearly not. The McCain people have done a scarily good job of getting back into it.

But what we’ve basically got here is a reset. This is a time-out with two minutes remaining and the score tied. We can mope about the lead we used to have. We can beat ourselves up wondering why we’re not crushing the other guy, the way the pre-game scouting reports led us to think we would.

Or we can lace up our sneakers and get back on the court and win this thing.

Adam, I hope some of this helps you feel at least somewhat better. It may not be enough to lift your demons; demons are tricky that way. So I think I’ll leave you with some Coldplay. In a contest between demons and Coldplay, I’ll put my money on Coldplay every time:

Sing out, yeah
Oh, oh, yeah
Come on, yeah
And everything’s not lost

Everything I Can Think of to Say About Sarah Palin

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Give the Mayberry Machiavellis running McCain’s campaign credit: They’re willing to go for it. They play the game with gusto.

Sarah Palin, based on the little bit of video I’ve watched, is fairly bright. Like Obama and Biden (but very much unlike the current iteration of McCain) she can speak in front of the camera without cue cards. She’s inexperienced, yes, but she has the potential to surprise anyone in the Obama campaign who assumes she’s going to be a pushover, and that all they have to do is point and laugh in order to make the case that she has no business being McCain’s veep.

Yes, she’s got that “troopergate” scandal hanging around. Yes, she’s outside the mainstream in terms of her views about teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes and denying abortions even in cases of rape and incest. Yes, she apparently doesn’t know jack about all those serious foreign-policy issues that the McCain campaign has been claiming Obama doesn’t know enough about.

None of which really matters. She’s only the veep. This country’s voters were willing to put Dan Quayle a heartbeat away. Don’t tell me a sharp, cute, former state-champion point guard can’t clear that bar. She can.

What the Palin selection is about is just this: Changing the subject. When I walked into work on Friday, the day after Obama arguably destroyed the McCain campaign on the last night of the Democratic Convention, no one was talking about Obama. Everyone was talking about Sarah Palin.

Mission accomplished.

Even if it comes out, as seems likely, that Palin has lied publicly about her role in the troopergate thing, and her role in the repurposing of the Bridge to Nowhere funds, and even if she commits a headline-grabbing gaffe every day from now until November 4, she’s a win from a political standpoint. Because she’s changing the subject.

As long as we’re all watching and listening to and talking about Sarah Palin, we’re not talking about the slam-dunk case Obama made against McCain Thursday night. We’re not talking about how McCain represents a continuation of the Bush presidency. It’s style over substance: See? I’m willing to choose a hot little firecracker like Sarah Palin as my veep. I’m not a stuffy old dude who has sold out his principles to ally himself with the forces of darkness in a last, desperate grab for the brass ring. I’m a maverick. I’m different. People are talking about me. (Well, about her.)

Not about that other guy.

I’d like to think it’s not going to work. I’d like to think Obama is too smart to fall into the trap of talking about Sarah Palin’s lack of qualifications.

Do you remember the vice presidential debate when Lloyd Bentsen absolutely eviscerated Dan Quayle with that “you’re no Jack Kennedy” line? Here it is in case you’ve forgotten:

All you Obama supporters who are gleeful at the prospect of going after Sarah Palin, watch that clip. You’re not going to get anything better than that. (Actually, you’re not going to get even that. Sarah Palin is no Dan Quayle.) And then remind yourself who won that election.

Do not be distracted by Sarah Palin. She’s a sideshow. She’s a misdirection. She’s a wave of the magician’s hand to get you to look right while he’s loading up his sleeve on your left.

I’d like to think the trick isn’t going to work. But I’ve got grudging admiration for the people who tried it.

Au on McCain’s Shortness and Bad Clothes

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Alan Au casts a critical eye at what John McCain is saying with his too-large jackets and old-man sweaters: Is 5’7″ John McCain Dressing For Defeat?

In a world dominated by visual images, McCain has the fortunate opportunity to have what every shorter actor wants on camera… a female costar that can make him look taller. McCain can look at least 5’9″ standing next to his lovely wife, if dressed in the right wardrobe. However, all too often it just looks like he’s trying to ride her coattails into the White House.

I highlight this only because of the nostalgic way it made me feel about the fashion coverage I offered during the Winona Ryder shoplifting trial. Well, okay. I also wanted to engage in some negative, low-road snark. We can’t let the McCain campaign have all the fun in that area, can we?