Straight-Talker, or Big Fat Liar?
I am a Democrat, but like a lot of people, I had a certain amount of admiration for John McCain, the "maverick" Republican senator from Arizona. However, my enthusiasm was tempered by something that happened during his bid for the Republican nomination in 2000: During the South Carolina primary, he refused to say that a Confederate battle flag atop the South Carolina statehouse should be removed. After the primary was over and he had dropped out of the race, he admitted taking that position so that he wouldn't lose votes, and he said that he had sacrificed "principle for personal ambition". That made me realize that he was something of an opportunist.
Now that he is the Republican nominee for President, he seems to have thrown principle out the window entirely. Not only has he flip-flopped on a variety of issues (see below), his campaign speeches, literature and ads are full of the most outrageous half-truths and lies about his opponent. Republicans have always been dishonest campaigners, but John McCain is taking the dishonesty to a new level. Here are some examples:
* John McCain has resurrected an old Republican lie saying that Obama's tax plan will raise taxes on 23,000,000 small-businessmen. Bush used this lie against Kerry in 2004, but Bush said that Kerry would raise taxes on 900,000 small-businessmen. As you can see, McCain has multiplied the lie by a factor of 25! Factcheck.org said that there are not even 23,000,000 small-businessmen in the country, and only a small percentage of them make enough money to have their taxes raised under Obama's plan. In fact, Factcheck.org said that more small-businessmen would have their taxes lowered than raised under Obama's plan. (Factcheck.org is a site run by the University of Pennsylvania in which they examine the veracity of politicians' claims.)
* About taxes in general, McCain keeps saying that Obama will raise taxes on the middle class. But Obama's plan is very clear: He will raise taxes on families making $250,000 or more, and lower taxes on families making $150,000 or less. The vast majority of Americans would have their taxes lowered under Obama's plan. But McCain keeps claiming that Obama will raise taxes, putting it in commercial after commercial. The nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center found that Obama's plan would save the middle class more money than McCain's plan would. Obama's plan would also result in a smaller federal deficit than McCain's plan would. McCain is just simply lying.
* In July, 2008, McCain ran an ad in which he blamed Obama for high gasoline prices (because of votes Obama cast against off-shore drilling and drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge). Obama has been in the Senate for less than four years, and his votes could not possibly be responsible for pricing in the oil and gas industries. It is well known that high oil prices are due primarily to supply and demand, speculative trading and other market forces. Furthermore, the Energy Information Administration, a government agency, estimates that off-shore drilling would bring prices down only slightly, and that it would take more than twenty years for that to happen.
* In July, 2008, McCain ran an ad saying that Obama will raise taxes on electricity. That claim was based on an off-hand remark which Obama made which McCain distorted beyond recognition. Obama has no plans to raise taxes on electricity.
* In July, 2008, McCain ran an ad in which Fidel Castro was quoted as saying that Obama was the best candidate for President. That gave the impression that Obama is the choice of our nation's enemies (not that Castro is much of an enemy). But what McCain left out was that Castro had more negative things to say about Obama than positive things, and that Castro is not happy with either candidate. Obama cannot control the opinions of foreign leaders.
* When Obama was travelling in Europe in July, 2008, he cancelled a visit with some wounded soldiers because the Pentagon felt that it would appear political. Since Obama was not busy, he gave an interview and visited a gym for a workout. McCain then ran an ad claiming that Obama would rather go to the gym than visit wounded solders, completely twisting the facts. McCain also claimed that Obama cancelled the visit because he could not bring cameras, but that was never true. Obama knew ahead of time that cameras were not allowed.
* In late July, 2008, McCain generally changed his tactics against Obama and started to attack him personally. His campaign started to refer to Obama as "The One" in public, and they released an ad describing Obama as a celebrity, comparing him to shallow celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The great irony of this is that McCain has appeared on television more than any other congressman in recent years. An article from the Politico web site said, "He [McCain] emerged as the most popular Republican in Hollywood following his 2000 presidential primary defeat, winning more screen time than the rest of Congress combined. McCain made cameos in 'Wedding Crashers' and '24', saw his memoir turned into a popular biopic on A&E, and appeared more than 30 times on late-night comedy shows." It appears, then, that McCain is the true celebrity. McCain's tactic is to sow doubts in the minds of the public by making people think that Obama is shallow, strange and different. Yet all you have to do is to listen to Obama to know that he is anything but shallow.
A more recent McCain commercial continues the theme that Obama is a shallow celebrity. It shows a woman calling Obama "dreamy". Such discourse has no place in a presidential campaign. There is certainly no dignity in it.
* A commercial released in late August quotes Obama as saying that Iran is a "tiny" country which doesn't pose a serious threat to the United States, but that's not what Obama said. In the speech that McCain is quoting, Obama said, "Iran, Cuba, Venezuela – these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us." Obama was making the point that if we could talk to the Soviet Union during the cold war, we can talk to Iran today. Once again, McCain has twisted the truth.
* The McCain campaign started running an ad in September saying that Barack Obama tried to push a bill through the Illinois state legislature that would give sex education to kindergarteners. Obama was not one of the sponsors of the bill. However, he did support it, but the bill was not as onerous as McCain makes it sound. The primary purpose of the bill was to ensure that sex education in the schools was medically accurate. It recommended including kindergarteners in the sex-education program, but the instructions given to them were to be "age appropriate" and non-explicit. One of the reasons Obama supported the bill was that it would teach young children to recognize when they were being touched inappropriately (that's a good thing!). Also, parents were given the right to opt out of the program.
* Also in September, McCain released an ad in which he ascribed to Obama and Obama's campaign things which have been said on the internet by people not associated with Obama.
* McCain has implied repeatedly that Obama is not patriotic. McCain says that Obama would rather "lose a war than lose a political campaign". There is no evidence at all to support such a statement. Obama has been consistently opposed to the Iraq war since it began, and to claim that he is opposing the war just to win the election is completely spurious.
There is nothing in Obama's history to suggest that he is not patriotic. Obama spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia (attending a Christian school, not a Muslim school as many people think). He was seven when his father took him there, and a 7-year-old child can't be blamed if his parents take him abroad. Besides that short period in a foreign country, Obama has had an illustrious career in America. He went to Columbia University and Harvard Law School and was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, a prestigious position. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago. He taught constitutional law as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years. He was an attorney at a law firm for nine years. He then became a state legislator in Illinois for seven years, and then became a U.S. senator. By the time a person becomes a senator, you can be sure that he is patriotic. No one who is anti-American or unpatriotic could rise that high in the U.S. government.
McCain has implied in his speeches and ads that Obama puts his political ambitions first and would be a "risk" to the American people. Yet, by flip-flopping on his own positions to gain votes, it is McCain who appears to be putting his political ambitions first. As for Obama being a "risk", it is true that he is not as well known to the American public, but everything about him suggests that he is a principled man. John Kennedy was also mostly unknown to the American public when he ran for President, as were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. It is true that Obama has less government experience than McCain, but frankly, I consider that to be a plus. People assume that you have to have a great deal of government experience to be a good president, but sometimes what the country needs is a fresh point of view. I believe that Obama has that point of view, along with the integrity and intelligence to set our country on a better course.
Many people don't know that Abraham Lincoln had less federal government experience than Obama has when he became President.
Barack Obama is definitely a different kind of candidate. What makes him different is that he is an intellectual. After years of having anti-government, pro-big-business, anti-environment Republicans in office, we could use someone with Obama's dispassionate qualities. The Republican party has always been the party of the rich and wealthy, and we now need a leader who cares about the average man. If you look at Obama's tenures in the Illinois state legislature and the U.S. Senate, what you see is that he was thoughtful and methodical. He worked with colleagues to achieve goals. His positions were well balanced and well thought-out. He was progressive but not radical. He always sided with average Americans in the positions that he took. We need somebody like that in office.
I said above that John McCain has flip-flopped on a variety of issues. Here is a brief list:
* He was against Bush's tax cuts, and now he is for them. (Let's remember that Bush's tax cuts mostly help the rich, and that they have created a huge deficit.)
* He completely back-tracked on immigration reform, now claiming that he would not vote for his own bill.
* He was against off-shore drilling, and now he is for it. He was also against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and now he is reconsidering that position.
* He supported a limited amount of affirmative action programs in the past, but now he doesn't support affirmative action at all.
* McCain originally promised the country a "civil campaign" for President. But when his poll numbers were down, he brought in the same Republican strategists who helped George W. Bush and his father win elections, including the strategist who was responsible for the infamous "Willie Horton" ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988.
McCain fancies himself to be a principled maverick, but the kind of campaign he is running would seem to belie that. The ideal of the perfect campaign is one in which the opponents debate the issues, not one in which they attack each other in personal and demeaning ways. McCain clearly thinks that it is okay to run a dirty campaign now as long as he's clean once he gets into office, but it doesn't work that way. If you don't have integrity in one situation, then you don't have integrity in any situation. McCain can't have it both ways.
I'm not suggesting that Obama is perfect. Obama has shifted a few of his positions, and a couple of those shifts could be considered flip-flops. But for the most part, he has been more consistent than McCain, and he has conducted a far more respectful campaign.
There is one more thing about John McCain which is very interesting: He is surrounded by lobbyists or former lobbyists. They are his friends; they are his advisers; they are on his staff; they work in his campaign. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, is a former lobbyist. McCain is part of Washington's K-Street culture. I don't see how he could possibly bring positive change to our government.