Two weeks ago, I blogged on the role of charges of hypocrisy in our politics. Another charge that gets thrown about without much thought is "lying." The most common definition of a lie is an "intentionally false statement." I think many of things that we call "lies" in politics are actually mistakes or an exaggerated or overly tendentious or incomplete statement of the facts.
A current meme of the Obama campaign is that John McCain and Sarah Palin are running the the "sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history." That's obvious nonsensical hyperbole. Another is to accuse McCain of "lying."
Much of this seems based on a single ad run about a sex ed bill that McCain supported which I think was overly tendentious and an exaggeration. But Obama's characterization of the bill is equally inaccurate as Byron York demonstrates.
What I want to clarify is what we mean by sleazy dishonest and lying. To do so, I'll take a few well-known and mostly recent claims by the Obama campaign.
The first is Obama's repeated claim that John McCain was willing to fight the war in Iraq for 100 years. Phrased in that way, the charge is hard to characterize as anything other than an intentionally false statement. McCain said we might stay in Iraq for 50 or 100 years (as we have stayed for many years in Germany and Korea) "as long as we are not taking casualties." If there are no casualties, there is no war.
But Obama backtracked and has now dropped that as Iraq has ceased to be an issue. Let's look at some more recent statements.
Obama says that McCain opposes equal pay for women. The charge is based on McCain's opposition to something called the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007. You'd think that this bill must call for equal pay for women but you'd be wrong. Equal pay for women had long been the law. This bill seeks to reverse a recent case by the United States Supreme Court which essentially interpreted existing law to require a private plaintiff to bring an equal pay claim under Title VII within 180 days of the first act of discrimination. That's short and perhaps should be longer, although there is another law, the Equal Pay Act, that has a longer limitations period and the Court made clear that its interpretation would not apply to allegations of a discriminatory pay structure.
Be that as it may, this bill comes very close to eliminating any period of limitations for persons still working for the allegedly discriminatory employer and changes Title VII in other ways as well. A reasonable person who supports equal pay could oppose it. But beyond that, a dispute over the proper statute of limitations is not equivalent to a dispute over the concept of equal pay. This is very close to an intentionally false statement.
Or how about the claim that McCain wants to tax your health insurance benefits? Literally true, but awfully misleading. McCain wants to include employer provided health care as income but he also would provide a tax credit of $ 5000 for families. If your employer's portion of your health care coverage amounts to $10000 (a fairly typical number) and you are in the 25% tax bracket, your additional tax would be $ 2500. But your credit would be $ 5000 so, in fact, you'd be money ahead. This wouldn't be the precise result for everyone, but McCain's plan is the beginning of the very necessary process of decoupling health insurance from employment and creating a workable private market for insurance. Obama's statement, while literally true, leaves out important facts.
Then there is the new ad excerpting part of Carly Fiorina's statement that Sarah Palin and John McCain would not be qualified to run a major corporation. The footage of Fiorina stops before she says, in the very next words, that Barack Obama and Joe Biden would not be qualified to run a major corporation either. Thus the ad falsely implies that Ms. Fiorina thinks that John McCain lacks some qualification that Barack Obama has. In fact, as Ms. Fiorina explained, she thinks that being President and running a major corporation are different things and involve different skill sets. It's a false analogy. (The ad's suggestion that the US President "runs" the US economy is nonsense, but that's another issue.)Through not so creative editing, the Obama ad misleads.
Then there is the ad making the terribly important monumental claim that John McCain "can't send an e-mail" suggesting that he is out of touch with the modern era. It turns out that McCains sends lots of e-mails, but can't do it himself because of injuries he sustained while being beaten as a POW. He has, in fact, a very good record on technology issues. Some have suggested that the Obama campaign were making fun of McCain's war injuries. I don't. They did not know why he can't e-mail (although it would have been easy to find out). The ad creates a false impression, but, although its intended message (McCain is old) is sleazy, it does so as a result of a mistake.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the McCain campaign is without sin. I have pointed out where they have made their own missteps. My point here is that the notion that Obama's ads are more accurate, less misleading and more honorable is hogwash - lipstick and all.