James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, September 13, 2008

'Straight talk' now straight lies

In 2000, after being chased out of the hunt for the Republican presidential nomination by the Bush slime machine, John McCain said in a television interview that he had said and done some things during his campaign that he did not believe and of which he was ashamed.

A tape of that part of the interview was shown on television late in the first week of September of this year – about a week ago as I write this. Sadly, I can't remember whether I saw it on CNN or CNBC; I wasn't wasn't really watching until that segment came on, and I wasn't in a position to take notes.

“I guess I wanted to be president,” McCain said, explaining to the interviewer why he had acted contrary to his own (stated) moral standards.

Should he lose in this year's general election, the next post-election interview should be a doozy, assuming he can recall how to read a moral compass. It's a doubtful assumption.

The campaign of John McCain and his running mate, the appalling Sarah Palin, relies more on flat-out lies and gross distortions of fact than any campaign in recent memory – probably more than any American campaign since the 19th century.

That undoubtedly has to do at least partially with the fact that around July 1, McCain turned control of his campaign strategy and tactics over to disciples of Karl Rove, the king of dirty politics in our times.

Nicolle Wallace, communications director for George W. Bush in the 2004 campaign and in the Bush White House, became a “senior adviser” to McCain and is traveling with him half time. Greg Jenkins, a long-time Rove aide and associate and also a former Fox News [Propaganda] producer joined the McCain team in the last week in June, and another Rove understudy, Steve Schmidt, was put in charge of the day-to-day operations of the campaign.

The move has a special gag-inducing factor in that the people now running McCain's show are some of the same people who poured filth on him in 2000.

Apparently, he wants to be president.

Jill Hazelbaker, a McCain campaign spokeswoman, said when asked about the Rovians that “Voters don't care about the organizational chart of our campaign.” Sadly, she's undoubtedly right.

It is so bad that some broadcasters and, now, even the staid old New Yorks Times are talking openly, without weasel-wording, about how the McCain campaign is dependent on lies.

On Sept. 12, economist and Times columnist Paul Krugman had a piece in that newspaper headlined “Blizzard of Lies.”

Krugman noted that while the lies of Bush campaigns have had at least some degree of subtlety, the McCain lies are so blatant “that anyone with an Internet connection can disprove (them) in a minute.”

He cited, for example, the now well-known fact that Palin is lying when she claims she was against the notorious “bridge to nowhere” and that she rejected the money for that project. (In fact, she supported the bridge until it became a national scandal, and under her direction, Alaska kept the money to use elsewhere.) He also notes that while claiming to be against “wasteful” earmark spending, she hired big-buck lobbyists to get more, more, more earmark money for Alaska, which sucks up far more federal money per capita than other states.

And he pointed to the very recent McCain ads that falsely claim Barack Obama sought to promote “full-fledged” sex education for kindergartners and that Obama called Palin a pig because he used the common phrase “putting lipstick on a pig” to describe Palin attempts to con the public on bad policy.

Truth: Obama supported a program that would have given small children guidance in recognizing and avoiding inappropriate advances from adults. The claim about the old lipstick/pig cliché was patently false – and, incidentally, McCain has used the same phrase himself more than once. Not many months ago, as the Times has reported, he used it to describe Hillary Clinton's health plan proposal.

Krugman posited that the McCain mob figures they can get away with such stuff because of the news industry's knee-jerk response to the attacks by one side by providing false balance: “a grotesque lie from one side is paired with a trivial misstatement from the other, conveying the impression that both sides are equally dirty.”

I'm glad someone other than me and a few other old reporters finally pointed that out.

More, Krugman proposes that there is a direct “relationship between the character of a campaign and that of the administration that follows.”

Also glad to see that finally in print.

More surprising is the fact that today as I write, Sept. 13, the Times has a front page story about the degree to which the McCain campaign is lying and distorting the truth and suggesting that the lies are so nasty and clearly untrue as to be fostering backlash against McCain.

The Times piece (http://www.nytimes.com) cites other McCain lies and quotes Democrats, independents and Republicans saying that the preponderance of lies and distortions in this presidential campaign is overwhelmingly on the McCain side. Such a straightforward report on campaign dishonesty in a major newspaper is unprecedented in my experience, and powerfully shows how far the McCain crowd has strayed.

Oh, yes. In the same issue, an editorial accurately rips Palin and her learned-by-rote responses to an interviewer and asks “what on earth John McCain was thinking” in adding her to his ticket. Given that the Times endorsed McCain for the Republican nomination and seemed headed not too long ago to endorsing him for election, that's also strong stuff.

Here, quickly, are some other McCain lies, as found on the highly reliable http://www.Factcheck.org (Thanks to my friend, freelance journalist Lydia Howell for passing these along.)

* McCain says that Obama's health care plan would force small businesses to cut jobs and would “put a bureaucrat...between you and your doctor.” Truth: The plan exempts small businesses, and those who have insurance now could keep their present coverage.

* McCain charges that Obama voted for “corporate welfare” for oil companies. Truth: The bill supported by the Democrat would raise taxes on oil companies by $300 million over 11 years while providing almost $6 billion in subsidies for renewable energy, efficient energy use and alternative fuels.

* McCain claims that the United States pays “countries that don't like us very much” $700 billion a year for oil. Truth: At present prices, the U.S. will import about $536 billion in oil this year, and about a third of that comes from close allies – Canada, Mexico and the UK.

* At the Republican convention this month, McCain said that the Obama health care plan would force families into a government-run program. Truth: Regrettably, Obama's plan falls far short of a true government-run health plan. It would require that children have coverage; people could choose from private plans, keep present coverage or choose a new public plan. Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program would be expanded.

* Remember McCain's famous trip to Iraq, in which he claimed that things were going so well that one could stroll alone and without body armor through the markets of Baghdad? In fact, he wore a flack vest when he took his famous stroll, and he was closely surrounded my military guards and covered overhead by three Army helicopters.

There's more, but it would be difficult to keep this at anything close to a readable length and provide a comprehensive list.

Instead, voters need to consider some other facts about McCain and his campaign.

First, it's time someone said this out loud: McCain is not very bright. Some Americans – maybe something close to half of us – seem to prefer a president who's on the dim side. They seem to think that indicates he's “just like us” or at least doesn't consider himself to be superior to the rest of us. A good look at George Bush shows that's a false assumption, but reason isn't a big factor for those who believe such things. Personally, I've always hoped for presidents who are greatly better informed and vastly more intelligent than the average.

McCain was sixth from the bottom academically in a class of 898 cadets in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy. As some of his former fellow cadets noted, he got into the naval air program only because he was a “legacy” student – his father and grandfather were admirals; were that not the case, his lousy academic performance would have kept him out of flight training. And he was a rotten pilot. He crashed five, count them, five, Navy aircraft before being shot down over Vietnam.

I'm the same age as McCain, and when he's off script I see in him worrisome things that I have seen in several people I have known. He often can't remember facts, he sometimes can't seem to remember what he was saying or intended to say. He seems confused sometimes. The news media apparently regard such observations as off limits but, folks, we are talking the presidency of the United States here. The question of competency -- continued competency, if you will -- can be ignored only at great peril.

There also are serious questions about the man's physical health, and he has not been willing to allow free access to his health records. A vice president Sarah Palin could be much closer to the presidency than anyone is suggesting at this point.

Then there is the question of Supreme Court appointments. The next president almost certainly will appoint at least one new justice. McCain has promised that Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts will “serve as models for my nominees.” That will delight right wing extremists, but probably not people who favor freedom of choice for women, or those who oppose use of torture and favor preservation of habeas corpus and, in fact, preservation -- or, more truthfully, restoration -- of the U.S. Constitution.

Our economy is a mess such as we've not seen since the Great Depression, and still sinking. John McCain, by his own admission, knows next to nothing about economics.

McCain is going along, apparently quite happily, with the Republican Party's huge effort at vote suppression in the coming election. More on this soon, but the party is involved in an all-out effort to prevent low income people and members of racial minorities from voting.

The Republican candidate is refusing to join in strongly bipartisan efforts in Congress to improve educational and health benefits for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Since he simply sidesteps all questions on that issue, it's impossible to say exactly why that is so.

And then, of course, there was McCain's first big decision: The selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. It probably was the most cynical such choice in the history of the United States, and very likely the worst. More on this, too, in the near future. Former Reagan speech writer and McCain adviser Peggy Noonan was caught on the air at the Republican convention calling the decision “political bullshit.”

That about sums it up.


John McCain has a “tell” when he's lying or about to lie.

A tell is what serious poker players call a nervous tic that shows shrewd players what someone else in a game is up to. For example, a player might rub his nose whenever he draws a card he wants, and another might quietly tap a finger lightly on the table when he's bluffing.

As a once-serious, though very small time, poker player – a few times in my university days, playing poker was the only thing that allowed me to eat – I spotted this one a while ago: When McCain is about to lie, his eyes blink very rapidly.

Watch for it.