Archive for September 14th, 2008

The Palin-22

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

One of the things I find most difficult to stomach this election cycle is the Palin-22, which essentially goes something like this:

Sarah Palin lies. (For example, she proudly proclaims that she opposed the bridge to nowhere; or, she casts herself as an ardent foe of earmarks.) The media and/or Obama campaign expose her lies. (She was for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it; she sought and received millions and millions of dollars in earmarks, first as the mayor of Wasilla, then as governor of Alaska.) Subsequently, more voters support Sarah Palin, more stridently. (Hey — stop attacking our gal!)

There’s something similar, though perhaps less pronounced, going on for John McCain. Terrific article in this morning’s New York Times about McCain’s distortions. Here is the nut:

First the McCain campaign twisted Mr. Obama’s words to suggest that he had compared Gov.Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, to a pig after Mr. Obama said, in questioning Mr. McCain’s claim to be the change agent in the race, “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig.” (Mr. McCain once used the same expression to describe Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health plan.)

Then he falsely claimed that Mr. Obama supported “comprehensive sex education” for kindergartners (he supported teaching them to be alert for inappropriate advances from adults).

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.

A McCain advertisement called “Fact Check” was itself found to be “less than honest” by, a nonpartisan group. The group complained that the McCain campaign had cited its work debunking various Internet rumors about Ms. Palin and implied in the advertisement that the rumors had originated with Mr. Obama.

And, yet, the more the media writes about these distortions, the more McCain’s poll numbers seem to rise.

Sure, the Obama campaign has also had some distortions. But the nonpartisan watchdog groups that track this stuff say McCain and his campaign are far worse offenders. Even some Republicans are saying McCain, formerly of the Straight Talk Express, has just gone way overboard. Sen. Orrin Hatch, of all people, was quoted in the Times article, saying McCain’s recent claims about Obama’s lipstick comment were “ridiculous”

It seems to come down to this, though: Exposing the truth makes it more likely that the guy who distorts the truth will win the election. Not exposing the truth makes it more likely the guy distorting the truth will win the election.

What’s a Neurotic Democrat to do?

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s Frank Rich’s answer, from today’s NY Times:

How do you run against that flashy flimflam? You don’t. Karl Rove for once gave the Democrats a real tip rather than a bum steer when he wrote last weekthat if Obama wants to win, “he needs to remember he’s running against John McCain for president,” not Palin for vice president. Obama should keep stepping up the blitz on McCain’s flip-flops, confusion, ignorance and blurriness on major issues (from education to an exit date from Iraq), rather than her gaffes and résumé. If he focuses voters on the 2008 McCain, the Palin question will take care of itself.

I should say, I’ve just done my morning rounds of the Sunday Times, and can’t remember a moment when the reporting and columnists pointed with more urgency to the same conclusion. There is a frightening front page article that everyone should read, which reports in great detail how Palin governed Alaska through cronyism and fear. Here’s the nut:

An examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then governor finds that her visceral style and penchant for attacking critics — she sometimes calls local opponents “haters” — contrasts with her carefully crafted public image. Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.

Doesn’t this sound like the worst of George Bush, all over again? In his column, Frank Rich notes that the quote from Palin’s acceptance speech (“We grow good people in our towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity”) comes from right-wing Heart columnist Westbrook Pegler, a “rabid McCarthyite” who “tirelessly advanced the theory that American Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe (‘geese,’ he called them) were all likely Communists.”

And while Times columnists are not supposed to make endorsements, Thomas Friedman comes as close to that line as anyone I’ve read in a long time. His anger at the McCain campaign for promoting a fear-based culture war as this country founders is palpable. Here’s the nut:

A Washington Post editorial on Thursday put it well: “On a day when the Congressional Budget Office warned of looming deficits and a grim economic outlook, when the stock market faltered even in the wake of the government’s rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, when President Bush discussed the road ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan, on what did the campaign of Senator John McCain spend its energy? A conference call to denounce Senator Barack Obama for using the phrase ‘lipstick on a pig’ and a new television ad accusing the Democrat of wanting to teach kindergartners about sex before they learn to read.”

Some McCain supporters criticize Obama for not having the steel in his belly to use force in the dangerous world we live in today. Well I know this: In order to use force, you have to have force. In order to exercise leverage, you have to have leverage.

I don’t know how much steel is in Obama’s belly, but I do know that the issues he is focusing on in this campaign — improving education and health care, dealing with the deficit and forging a real energy policy based on building a whole new energy infrastructure — are the only way we can put steel back into America’s spine. McCain, alas, has abandoned those issues for the culture-war strategy.

Who cares how much steel John McCain has in his gut when the steel that today holds up our bridges, railroads, nuclear reactors and other infrastructure is rusting? McCain talks about how he would build dozens of nuclear power plants. Oh, really? They go for $10 billion a pop. Where is the money going to come from? From lowering taxes? From banning abortions? From borrowing more from China? From having Sarah Palin “reform” Washington — as if she has any more clue how to do that than the first 100 names in the D.C. phonebook?

Sorry, but there is no sustainable political/military power without economic power, and talking about one without the other is nonsense. Unless we make America the country most able to innovate, compete and win in the age of globalization, our leverage in the world will continue to slowly erode. Those are the issues this election needs to be about, because that is what the next four years need to be about.

I sense an urgency, at least in the pages of the Times, that I have not sensed in a long time. Of course, the Palin-22 means that all of this reporting, ultimately, helps Palin-for-president. Um — I mean, vice president.

MY OBAMA MINUTE: I spent all afternoon yesterday — five hours — working with my cousin Molly, moving my blog to a new site, to give me more functionality. You can find me now at That should be easier to remember, if, as my father-in-law notes, you can spell “neurotic.” One more thing for ND to worry about. I also — in part to promote this blog — finally set up Facebook, Linked-In, and Twitter accounts. All of which should help me — and, by extension, everyone else who posts on this blog — to promote our Obama advocacy. So, a thousand thanks to Molly, for driving all the way from Ann Arbor to help with this effort, and to my wife, for watching the kids all day (shut in by the rain) while we worked, and to my father-in-law, for the Kona that got me through.