Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Those who speak before glass greek columns should not throw stones

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.

12 comments:

ugs said...

McCain hates American motorcyles.
McCain doesn't know how to use a computer.
Libs don't give a hoot about honesty
They crave power like a heroin addict craves a fix.

Dad29 said...

I think the ad regarding sex-ed is perfectly defensible--that is, McCain's claim is correct.

And "age-appropriate" is as big a hole as is "mental health" of the mom in abortion cases...

dirbbkeder said...

Your comment: "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" shows a whopping degree of gullibility. Plenty of people without hands even send emails. People without arms use voice recognition programs. McCain has two hands, walks around, wants to be president even -- he is PHYSICALLY able to send an email, regardless of what happened to him in Vietnam. That you bought into that argument and even repeated it says a lot about how far you are willing to stretch the truth in your own mind.

Jay Bullock said...

So, McCain can work the little buttons on his BlackBerry (the spectrum auction for which he voted against, despite Holtz-Eakins's insistence that McCain made the BlackBerry happen), but he can't email?

And you're also off--either in a big way or a small way, depending on the source you believe (and McCain's own website is ambiguous, saying the credit is "for families to offset the cost of insurance")--on your description of his health care plan: Accoring to some descriptions of the plan, you only get the tax credit for buying health insurance. If that's the case, a family with a $10k employer-paid plan does not get any tax credit, but they still pay taxes on the premium.

Even if everyone gets the credit regardless of where their insurance comes from, McCain's plan is unambiguously indexed to inflation, not the cost of health care. He may believe that his plan magically controls costs, but it does not. (Obama's does not, either.) That means in a few short years, the cost of the premium (and the cost of the taxes on employer-paid premiums) will far outstrip the tax credit.

Anonymous said...

dirbbkeder, "McCain has two hands, walks around, wants to be president even -- he is PHYSICALLY able to send an email, regardless of what happened to him in Vietnam. That you bought into that argument and even repeated it says a lot about how far you are willing to stretch the truth in your own mind."

And what does it say about you? He has been quoted most recently as saying he PHYSICALLY CAN, but his wife usually takes his dictations because it is painful for him to do it and his wife is willing(even likes) to do it for him. Are you trying to say that he PHYSICALLY CAN so he really must be technologically inept? That you are defending that argument says a lot about how far you are willing to stretch the truth in your own mind.
Tuerqas

Dad29 said...

Go here for a discussion of Obama Sex-Ed:

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/colleen-raezler/2008/09/17/media-report-re-warmed-obama-campaign-talking-points-fact

Rick Esenberg said...

And you're also off--either in a big way or a small way, depending on the source you believe (and McCain's own website is ambiguous, saying the credit is "for families to offset the cost of insurance")--on your description of his health care plan: Accoring to some descriptions of the plan, you only get the tax credit for buying health insurance. If that's the case, a family with a $10k employer-paid plan does not get any tax credit, but they still pay taxes on the premium.

There is nothing ambigious about it but since you seem unable to understand the term "every family," look here and be reassurred.

I'd have to think about it, but my immediate reaction is that, if you index the credit to health care increases, you are encouraging such increases.

Dad29 said...

McCain said:

"The employer tax deduction stays in place so the employer still has the incentive to provide health insurance to the employee, but the employee now loses the health tax incentive and it is replaced by the refundable tax credit."

So if someone's in the 25% tax bracket and the employer pays $12K/year for family coverage, the employee is liable for $3K in income tax, offset by the (up to) $5K credit.

His website has still not clarified the position, however.

3rd Way said...

Again Rick is employing the Esenberg Doctrine (hat tip to Foley) and defending the indefensible.

Palin has either deliberately misrepresented or is ignorant about the facts on a number of issues.

Sullivan has done a great job of documenting her falsehoods. Her statements about her role in the bridge to nowhere, the amount of energy Alaska produces, her trips to Ireland and Iraq, the status of an Alaskan pipeline, the health of the polar bear population, the firing of a police chief, and the firing of a public safety commisioner should trouble anyone. Most of these can't be qualified as "overly tendentious or exaggerations", they are demonstrably false statements about things that she knows, or definitely should know, the facts on. That is called lying by us average folks.

Obama is making a critical mistake by playing a similar game of distortion. He should be playing the straight and narrow to maintain the credibility to make the claim that he is differnt and not partaking in the deceptive politics as usual. Even with Obama's transgressions he is not nearly in the same league as Team Palin when it comes to truthiness.

3rd Way said...

Q: How can you tell Sarah Palin is lying?

A: Her lipstick is moving.

___________

Q: Why doesn't Sarah Palin wear the pantsuits of your typical female politician?

A: Her pants would start on fire.

Terrence Berres said...

"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."

I assume the ad doesn't call it The Jet Age.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

Partisan justification is a sight to behold.

I watched Palin's "interview" with Hannity last night. I noticed she didn't answer Hannity's direct question about whether or not she supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it.