Richard Reeves

The Year of Campaign Lying

LOS ANGELES -- Driving to work on Thursday morning, I heard a radio report that began with the words: "Good news!" That news turned out to be that gasoline prices at California pumps had dropped to $3.78 a gallon, down from more than $4 a month ago.

The radio report did go on to say that gasoline was selling for less than $2.70 a gallon around here a year ago. The "good news!" was relative -- to say the least and pay the most.

A moment later, the voice of Gov. Sarah Palin was in the car repeating McCain's claim that we are "winning" in Iraq.

I hate to break bad news, but we are not winning in Iraq. We are, hopefully and thankfully, doing a little better, relatively. But if you go back a year, or two years, or three years, the war has been a disaster, a terrible time for the United States, and much more worse for the men and women valiantly fighting and being sent back to fight again and again for a lost cause. History will record that this impulsive war has crippled our military capacity and made a mockery of our claim to superpower.

President Bush came to power when the United States was called the world's only superpower -- militarily, economically and morally. He will leave us a nation with greatly diminished military power and will, deep economic uncertainty, and a reputation for torture and the denigration of the legal safeguards written into our Constitution. Nice job!

I do not envy Sen. McCain and his running mate inheriting that legacy. So far, their only strategy is to pretend none of these things are true. They have to lie --and they are. A former McCain strategist, Dan Schnur, now a colleague of mine at the University of Southern California, put it this way in an interview with The Associated Press:

"McCain tried it his way. He had a poverty tour and nobody covered it. He had a national service tour and everybody made fun of it. He proposed these joint town halls" with Obama "and nothing came of it. Through the spring and summer, that approach didn't work. You can't blame him for taking a step back and reassessing."

Yes, I can. And I am not crazy about Schnur's implication that the press made him do it. John McCain is not good at taking steps back. But he has retreated, taking on proteges of the tactics of Bush's "architect," Karl Rove, who apparently believes in the power of lying and repeating lies.

It seems to be working at the moment. I would guess that a majority of listening Americans believe that Gov. Palin opposed "the Bridge to Nowhere," even though she was for it until it was killed by Congress. Maybe they believe that Barack Obama is a sexist calling Palin a pig, or that he favors sex education in kindergartens, or that he is planning to raise all taxes.

Those charges are untrue -- and repeated day after day by Republicans who know better. Another lie is that Obama plans to raise taxes on all senior citizens, even though he has proposed eliminating those taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 a year. Well, the truth be damned; 41 percent of those seniors, according to Washington Post/ABC News polling, believe the Democratic candidate intends to raise their taxes.

It is distressing that McCain would go this way, because eight years ago when he ran against Bush, he was the victim of Rove's lies. That year, the Bush campaign, or people hired by the campaign, did push-polling, calling voters to ask: "Would it change your opinion of John McCain if you knew he was the father of a black child?" (The McCains, as you probably know, have an adopted daughter, born in Bangladesh, who has dark skin.)

Having said that, I don't think campaign lying will work this year -- government lying is another story -- because both candidates and the press are using the "L" word, a no-no in politer times. "Lying" is being called by its true name in press conferences and headlines. It's about time: Lie if you will, candidates, but be prepared to be called on it this time.

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