Lying Politicos McCain and Obama Should Take the Oath

We're Heartbroken That Fabricating Big Lies From Nominal Truths Has Become Standard Operating Procedure

By Published on .

For those of us who support Barack Obama, watching the behavior of John McCain lately has been perversely satisfying. Alarming poll numbers have yielded desperate tactics of the most self-defeating kind.

To wit: Gov. Gidget aboard the Hate Talk Express accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists." Oh, yeah, with the global economy in freefall, that'll entice the independents. Meantime, the campaign is on the air with a spot directly accusing Obama of being a liar.

VOICE-OVER: Who is Barack Obama?

TV-NEWS CLIP: Obama's presidential campaign is asking Missouri law enforcement to target anyone who lies or runs a misleading television ad.

VOICE-OVER: How hypocritical. Obama's Social Security attack was called "a falsehood." His health-care attack ... "misleading." Obama's stem-cell attack ... "not true." Barack Obama. He promised better. He lied.

JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

It's easy to roll one's eyes over this kind of charge -- surely the ultimate case of the pot calling the kettle black -- but don't roll them too fast.

It's true.

Yeah, McCain's a liar, and Obama's a liar too. Here the sleaze artists in the McCain camp have caught the sleaze artists in the Obama camp red-handed. Each Obama assertion about McCain's record, vetted by independent fact-checkers, was exposed as a shameful twisting of facts. For instance, before he changed his position in 2001, McCain did oppose stem-cell research. But the Obama ad's participle form -- "has stood in the way" -- suggests McCain's enduring opposition. Which is a lie.

It would be equally true to say, "With the global economy reeling from cataclysmic events, John McCain needed to wear diapers and cried every day." That was true, in 1936, during the Great Depression, when the candidate was born. But not lately. (Probably.)

So this is all very discouraging. Admittedly, we surrendered to the sick pleasure of Mr. Straight Talk Express revealing himself as just another cynical, self-serving politician, but we're correspondingly disgusted with Mr. Change We Can Believe In, who has revealed exactly the same thing. More broadly, we're simply heartbroken that this tactic -- fabricating big lies from decontextualized elements of nominal truth -- has become, in our most important national discourse, standard operating procedure. Needless to say, if Crest or Wal-Mart or Bridgestone tried it, there would be hell (or at least lots of lawyers) to pay.

Two years ago, we proposed something called The Oath, whereby every candidate would pledge, on behalf of his or her entire campaign, "not to lie or misrepresent my opponent's record and positions on the stump, in my press materials or in my advertising."

The theory was that no candidate could refuse to make such a pledge, and because every trespass is now documented by the opponent or the media, nobody could dare break it. Or, as we put it back then, "The Straight Talk Express will be like that bus in 'Speed.' Take your foot off the truth gas, and the whole thing explodes."

Alas, needless to say, nobody took us up on this. The result is the current spectacle: tens of millions of dollars worth of absolute malarky inundating Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, et. al.

It's funny that, amid McCain-Palin's most despicable smears, this ad happens to be dead-on accurate. The irony is that it no longer matters. When a liar and hypocrite calls someone a liar and hypocrite, who is even paying any attention?

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