Liar, liar, pants on fire
Carlton M. Caves
2008 September 13

What's the difference between a Republican and a liar? Republican begins with an r, and liar ends with an r.

That's where we stand after a week in which the Straight Talk Express, long running on empty, with steering and brakes failing and engine falling apart, ran straight into a ditch. Straight talk is now gone for good; lying is the order of the day. The McCain campaign has for some time misrepresented Obama's positions on everything from taxes and health care to guns. The McCain strategy has been that if you have nothing to run on, then make up an opponent to run against. This week, however, the lying ascended to new levels of audacity, matched only by the 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.

There was the outrageous and reprehensible McCain ad about Obama's sponsorship of an Illinois bill to provide comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education in Illinois schools. The ad implies that the bill's sole purpose was to introduce explicit sex education into kindergarten, whereas, in fact, the bill was about sex education at all age levels. For kindergarteners, the age-appropriate instruction would focus on recognizing inappropriate touching and avoiding sexual predators. The McCain ad is such an absurd misrepresentation---it is hard to imagine what kind of idiot believes that the legislature of the state of Illinois would pass a bill whose sole purpose was to introduce explicit sex education into kindergarten. It should be funny, except it isn't.

Then there is the continuing story of Sarah Palin's fight against federal earmarks for the state of Alaska. Palin says repeatedly in her stump speech that on the notorious Bridge to Nowhere, she told the federal government, "Thanks, but no thanks." The record shows that she campaigned for the Bridge and continued to support it until it was clear that Congressional opposition would sink it, when she finally turned against it, but then happily accepted the same amount of money for other purposes. Although Palin has reduced the governor's request for earmarks to Alaska's congressional delegation---never mind what local units of government are doing---her request for $198M for the next fiscal year is still enough to keep Alaska firmly in the number-one spot in earmark dollars per capita, a position it has occupied as long as anyone can remember. In the current fiscal year, which is on Palin's watch, Alaska is receiving over $500 per person in earmarks, about ten times the national average.

In one of her interviews with Charles Gibson of ABC, Palin backed off from saying she opposes all earmarks, which is McCain's position, retreating to the position that there should be reform to end "abuses," so that appropriations are made "in the light of day, not behind closed doors, with lobbyists making deals with Congress to stick things in there under the public radar." Perhaps what she means is that earmarks and their Congressional sponsor should be disclosed and a written justification provided 72 hours before approval in either house of Congress. If so, that's Obama's position.

What would be most effective would be to combine the sort of transparency Obama proposes with a return to budget discipline in the Congress. Instead of appropriating funds in a gigantic omnibus spending bill, into which it is not difficult to slip special projects, because nobody even knows what is in the bill, Congress should get back to the orderly procedure, abandoned under Republican control, of authorizing spending and then appropriating funds in separate bills for the various functions of the federal government.

Meanwhile, in his appearance yesterday on The View, McCain responded to co-host Barbara Walter's observation that Palin had requested substantial earmark amounts as governor by blandly asserting: "No, not as governor, she didn't." He apparently knew that as mayor of Wasilla, she hired a lobbyist to help secure earmarks for the village, but he hadn't bothered to inform himself about her practices as governor. He's already had to retract this assertion, but notice that it means that his crusading against earmarks with Palin has been based on a lie. McCain and Palin should quit lying about how she has been and is a special scourge of earmarks.

An interesting development is that it looks like McCain and Palin might be called out on their lies. The press, at last recovered from the hypnotic effect of the free-form, but now extinct McCain riffs on the Straight Talk Express, shows signs of holding McCain and Palin accountable for what they say. The Gibson and Walters episodes are indications that maybe, just maybe, the press will start to do its job.

But we can't count on that. So what should the Obama campaign do? I think they have to be rigorous in making sure that what they do say about McCain and Palin is justified. Given that, I recommend two lines of attack.

Throw them to the mat by exposing their lies, and then pin them to the failed policies of the Bush gang---that's the ticket. Let's hope it can be done.

Addendum: 2008 September 16

I used a document from the Tax Policy Center to compare Obama's and McCain's tax proposals. The unit in that document is the household, so my sentence about taxes should read, "Obama will cut taxes for 95% of American households and cut taxes more than McCain for all but the top income quintile."

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