Pay attention to those words, because you will be hearing them a lot over the next six weeks. And prepare to wince.
If the first few ads of the general-election campaign are any measure, the Republican presidential candidate -- war hero, nonpartisan maverick and proprietor of the Straight Talk Express -- has sacrificed his vaunted principles for political advantage.
Two spots from the McCain camp and one from the Republican National Committee represent the worst in presidential politics: lies, distortions and Rovian distractions of the most despicable kind.
Of course, the Obama campaign also plays fast and loose with the truth, because politicians lie, and in a close contest, they lie even more. (Examples: harping on McCain's long-since-revised assertion of a healthy economy, and the constant, out-of-context characterization of McCain's "100-year war" prediction for Iraq, which he never made.)
The Democrats are no paragons of virtue, but for at least the past 25 years, the Republicans have been qualitatively and quantitatively far worse, using race baiting (Willie Horton; Jesse Helms vs. Harvey Gantt; Bob Corker, via the Republican National Committee, vs. Harold Ford); wedge politics (gay marriage and "partial-birth abortion"); and personal smears (Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and, in the 2000 primaries, rumormongering about McCain himself and his nonexistent black love child).
(Before you start admonishing AdReview to "stick to marketing," please note that politics is a marketplace like any other. Please note, too, that among our many criteria, first and foremost is basic truth. And save your huffing about "bias"; criticism is the business of evaluation through the prism of the writer's experience, and thus is explicitly biased.)
Now then, the particulars:
In a TV spot called "Education," McCain's narrator cites Barack Obama's "one accomplishment: legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners." This refers to an Illinois legislative vote on K-through-12 sex ed, which included teaching little ones to be wary of predators and inappropriate touching. The same ad strings together editorial fragments from various publications to suggest that Obama has been singled out for criticism by journal Education Week. He hasn't.
An RNC spot released simultaneously juxtaposes VP candidate Sarah Palin's now-famous "lipstick" joke with Obama using the expression "lipstick on a pig." He invoked it, as he has often done (and McCain, too), to describe obscuring bad policy with optimistic rhetoric. But in the ad smear, the line is misrepresented as "Obama on Sarah Palin." Repulsive.
For the combination of flagrancy and irony, though, you can't top the spot "Fact Check." Here McCain fraudulently twists analysis by the nonpartisan FactCheck.org, of all sources, to portray media and blogger inquiries into Gov. Palin's past as a campaign by Obama "to destroy her." Karl Rove lives.
Maybe these tactics will work; they surely did the candidates Bush no harm. But McCain, who has campaigned as rejecting politics as usual, invokes them at his own peril. For one thing, the video-juxtaposition war is one McCain-Palin will lose; they don't want a battle of flip-flops. More to the point, though, there are flip-flops on policy, and then there are flip-flops on principle.
You will recall, in his acceptance speech, Sen. McCain told of his humiliation and self-loathing, when after years of heroic defiance against his Vietnamese jailers, he finally signed a phony, coerced confession. Isolation and torture had broken his resolve, and he was blameless.
Now, it appears that nothing more is required to break him than presidential ambition. And this time, the confession is not coerced: "I'm John McCain, and I approve this message."