Farhad Manjoo asks the question which is on many liberals’ minds these days – why doesn’t the Obama campaign answer the McCain campaign’s frequent, repeated, and unrepentant lies with lies of their own?
I know that it’s frustrating to watch. I do. I’m right with Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly – this has been, without a doubt, the most crassly and flagrantly dishonest Presidential campaign of my lifetime. And, in fact, I wish that the Obama campaign would be more willing to put that fact right out there. I listened to Obama’s interviews last week with Stephanopoulos and Olbermann, and I didn’t really like them. He was kind of wishy-washy, often seeming resistant to speaking out strongly and declaratively on issues of real disagreement. In particular, when asked about various lies that the McCain campaign has told about him and his record, or about McCain, or Palin, he would always start off with some vague circumlocution about ‘well, these claims, these statements that they’re making, they just don’t hold up.’
What the fuck is that? They’re lies. The McCain campaign is telling lots of lies. Which makes them liars. I wish, with all my heart, that Obama could discover the utility of that teeny-little three letter word. Unlike litbrit, I don’t expect the national media to use the word ‘lies’ so prominently, although you have to give them props for the number of ways they managed to avoid doing so (emphasis hers):
Harsh advertisements and negative attacks are a staple of presidential campaigns, but Senator John McCain has drawn an avalanche of criticism this week from Democrats, independent groups and even some Republicans for regularly stretching the truth in attacking Senator Barack Obama’s record and positions…
First the McCain campaign twisted Mr. Obama’s words…
Then he falsely claimed that Mr. Obama supported “comprehensive sex education” for kindergartners…
Those attacks followed weeks in which Mr. McCain repeatedly, and incorrectly, asserted that Mr. Obama would raise taxes on the middle class, even though analysts say he would cut taxes on the middle class more than Mr. McCain would, and misrepresented Mr. Obama’s positions on energy and health care.
Yes, that’s right – that’s a ‘stretching the truth’, a ‘twisting’, a ‘falsely claimed’, a ‘repeatedly and incorrectly asserted’, and a ‘misrepresented’, all in the first four grafs.
Anyhow, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I would really like for the Obama campaign, the candidate in particular, to discover the word ‘lie.’ Next time that Barack is asked in an interview about some ridiculous lie that the McCain campaign has told repeatedly, like the argument that he is going to raise taxes on most Americans, I wish that he would give a response something like the following:
Well, I have heard him say that. Which is a shame, since it’s a lie. It’s not the only lie that he’s told. We’ve all heard the only saw that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’, but apparently John McCain has a different belief, which is that ‘ten lies make a truth.’ But that’s just not the case. I’m not going to get involved in the fine details of debunking that particular lie, except to tell you that it is, simply, a lie. If John McCain wants to have an argument about different points of view, I’m happy to have that argument, but if he’s simply going to lie about himself, me, and my positions, then what’s the point in trying to respond to that?
And then, for the remainder of the interview, anytime he is asked about any lie that has been told by the McCain campaign or one of its surrogates, his stock response should be ‘There’s another one of those lies I was talking about earlier, and it’s not worth responding to.’
He doesn’t have to get angry about it. Just stay calm and cool, and repeatedly say the word ‘lie’, over and over and over and over (and over.) Eventually, with sufficient repetition, it becomes a campaign narrative. And, I believe, it fundamentally changes the way stories are reported in the MSM. When McCain’s campaign tells a lie, and the Obama campaign corrects it, the story tends to be ‘McCain campaign accuses X, Obama campaign responds Y.’ A neutral, uninformed observer is left generally not knowing the truth and, in fact, research has shown that the correction never completely undoes the influence the lie has in the first place.
If, on the other hand, the Obama campaign response is ‘lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie’, then the story becomes ‘The McCain campaign accuses X, Obama campaign says it is a lie. The fact is Y, which means that, indeed, the McCain claims are not true.’ Enough stories like that, and Joe Uninformed Voter begins to understand that most of the things the McCain campaign says are lies, which makes them a bunch of liars, and hence renders anything they say suspect to doubt.
All that said, the Obama campaign hasn’t implemented my strategy yet, although their news ads are definitely a bit harder-hitting. They’re at least to the point of calling a spade a playing card, if they’re not quite at the point of calling it a spade yet. And, as the article I quoted above shows, the MSM is beginning to notice how many claims of McCain’s are, simply, lies. At this point, if the Obama campaign can define McCain and his campaign as a bunch of liars, that is game, set, and match.
And that is, fundamentally, why I continue to be not too worried about the general election yet. The Obama campaign has shown itself, over the last 2 years, to be remarkably good at calmly and quietly responding just enough to the issue of the day, while maintaining their focus on the long-term game plan. I think, if anything, this long-term focus hurt them at the end of the Democratic primary, when Hilary started racking up victories while they were working on the general. But here, there’s nothing to focus on after November, so I’m confident that they have a plan and a reason for how they’re responding, or not responding, to what’s been going on.
Contrast that with the McCain campaign, which, in the last 2 weeks, has shifted gears entirely from ‘experience experience experience 9/11 experience dangerous times bomb Iran experience’ to ‘reform reform mavericky goodness reform reform earmarks lipstick reform’. Although they have proven very competent at winning the daily and weekly new cycles, I don’t think they’ve succeeded at defining any particular aspect of the campaign in their favor, and their wild, uncontrolled careening back-and-forth from one position to another has left a big opening for the Obama campaign to define the fundamental campaign as ‘truth vs. lies.’
The Obama campaign knew, from the beginning, that a campaign on the issues was one McCain could never win, so they had to have known that the personal attacks were going to come. So far, they have chosen to quickly, firmly, but quietly respond to them. It doesn’t appear to be working amazingly well, but they’re also hardly getting their ass kicked right now and, as I said above, I think they have a prime opportunity to define the campaign narrative decidedly in their favor, which could end the argument altogether.
Although I usually assume that I’m right, at this particular point, I simply hope that I am.