Despite all the chatter about how “historic” Campaign 2008 has been, it is the McCain-Palin ticket that it is truly testing the limits, not of race or gender politics, but whether the United States is ready to enter into a new dimension of political lying.
Until two weeks ago, it would have been hard to believe that any political figure would have had the audacity to step into the national spotlight by telling the bald-faced lies that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has. Yet, many Americans have embraced her enthusiastically and don’t want to hear anything negative about her.
Palin’s most obvious lie is one that she has repeated over and over: “I told Congress, ‘thanks but no thanks’ about that Bridge to Nowhere.” Now, however, anyone who has bothered to fact-check this claim knows that Palin supported the bridge until Congress removed the earmark and then she kept the money to use on other state projects.
Palin also presents herself as a “reformer” who can’t stand earmarks or the lobbyists who arrange such wasteful pork-barrel spending — except that she hired Alaska’s top Washington lobbyists to secure millions of dollars in earmarks for her town, Wasilla, and for her state, including sending off a wish list of nearly $200 million just this year.
With the help of the lobbying firm and her annual treks to Washington, Palin secured a stunning $27 million in earmarked funds for Wasilla, a town then with about 6,000 residents. Some of Palin’s projects were considered such prime examples of Washington pork that they were cited in anti-earmark reports compiled by none other than Sen. John McCain earlier this decade.
When ABC’s news anchor Charles Gibson asked Palin about her past support of earmarks and her backing for the Bridge to Nowhere, Palin simply refused to acknowledge that she had made misleading or false claims about herself.
“It has always been an embarrassment that abuses of the ear form — earmark process has been accepted in Congress,” Palin said. “And that’s what John McCain has fought. And that’s what I joined him in fighting.”
But Palin is not alone in simply denying reality. Her partner, John McCain, has shown his own ability to not blush while lying.
On the ABC-TV show “The View,” McCain was confronted with Palin’s contradictory record of arranging earmarks while selling herself as a reformer. McCain simply ignored the facts and declared, “not as governor she didn’t.”
But McCain now has his own long trail of stunning lies, both about his opponent Barack Obama and McCain’s dubious reputation for clean politics. After presiding over a convention notable for its partisan rancor — including endless mocking of Obama as a “community organizer” — McCain said his presidency would be about eliminating “partisan rancor.”
Earlier in the campaign, McCain approved ads accusing Obama of everything from causing $4 a gallon gasoline (a silly charge) to stiffing wounded U.S. troops in Germany by canceling a visit because he couldn’t bring along cameras (a false accusation).
More recently, McCain and his team have blamed Obama for passing a law that would require sex education for kindergarteners and for calling Palin a “pig” when the Democratic nominee criticized McCain’s economic package by saying it was like “putting lipstick on a pig.”
Though McCain himself had applied the common expression to Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan, Obama’s use of the image was ripped from its context and twisted into a “sexist” attack on Palin.
As for the kindergarten sex-education ad, the McCain campaign had contorted Obama’s support for a program that would teach young school children how to avoid sexual predators into providing them “comprehensive sex education.”
When confronted on “The View” about these two dishonest ads, McCain insisted that “actually they are not lies.” He then went on to argue that his own use of the “lipstick on a pig” remark was different because he was talking about Clinton’s health-care plan.
Barbara Walters, one of the program’s co-hosts, challenged this excuse, noting that Obama was speaking about change, not Palin.
McCain’s response was that Obama “chooses his words very carefully,” suggesting apparently that when McCain has used the phrase he doesn’t. McCain added as his defense that harsh things have been said about him, too, and that “this is a tough campaign.”
At the end of McCain campaign ads — including others that have compared Obama to Paris Hilton and distorted his positions on taxes, health care and energy — the voters hear McCain intoning, “I approved this message.”