Tuesday, September 16, 2008

That's the Ticket

So, Tina Fey made a triumphant return to Saturday Night Live this weekend to deliver a dead-on caricature of Sarah Palin.

Now, it might be time to bring back Jon Lovitz and his Pathological Liar routine...to skewer John McCain.

I strive for non-partisanship in this blog. I call 'em as I see 'em, and I try to afflict both sides, no matter my politics or theirs. This is not an advocacy site - I'm a political reporter and I try to offer insight, analysis, and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life on the campaign trail, all with a healthy side of humor. So let me say up front that every presidential campaign takes liberties with the truth. They all distort, and bend, and exaggerate. They take things out of context, and they take their rival's offhand comments and harmless jokes and blow them out of proportion. The Obama campaign is as guilty of that as any I've seen.

But the McCain campaign is going way beyond that. This campaign isn't just fudging a little bit. It seems to actually be lying, and it's rare that we in the media say such a thing. And the worst offense, to me, is that when it gets caught - the McCain-Palin campaign denies that it's lying, and keeps repeating the lies.

You don't have to take it from me. Maybe you think I'm part of the liberal media conspiracy. You can take it from Karl Rove, or from the Wall Street Journal. Look, if they accuse John McCain of lying in his campaign ads, it's probably true, right?

The saddest part of this is that it's coming from John "Straight Talk" McCain, a man who has always claimed to place his honor and integrity above all else, at least in his political life. Has he sold his soul to become president? Is he so close to tasting the ultimate political success, that he's letting his campaign managers run roughshod over the truth, his reputation be damned? Has McCain decided the end justifies the means, no matter how low and nasty?

Here are a few of the lies that bother me the most:

McCain, on the stump, cackles with glee as he tells a roaring crowd about his running mate, Sarah Palin, "I love that she sold the governor's plane on eBay! And she made a profit!"

THE TRUTH: No she didn't. Palin did put the jet on eBay, but nobody bought it. The state ended up selling it through a traditional broker, and at a $500,000 loss.

McCain, on The View last week, insists that Palin has not asked for or accepted any federal earmark spending for Alaska while governor, only while Mayor of Wasilla, and that she vetoed pork-barrel bills as governor.

THE TRUTH: Palin has requested almost $200 million in earmarks for Alaska this year, and that's on top of the $256 million in pork she snagged from the feds last year. That gives Alaska, far and away, the most federal earmark dollars, per capita, in the nation. But Palin herself keeps repeating, on the stump and in her lone interview so far, that she is "against earmark abuse."

Palin has also used that same tired line about the Bridge to Nowhere - "I told Congress thanks, but no thanks" - so many times now that even she isn't delivering it with the same conviction.

THE TRUTH: Palin campaigned for the $223 million bridge, fought for the money from Congress, and lobbied to get the bridge built. After the project became a national symbol of earmark abuse, Congress killed the proposal - and then, and only then, did Palin switch her position and oppose the idea of the bridge. She still took the money, though, and spent it on other projects in Alaska.

But the McCain-Palin campaign's lies go way beyond Palin's record. They also show up in the attack ads slamming Barack Obama. One cited Obama's "lipstick on a pig" quip - which came in the midst of a discussion of McCain, President Bush and economic policy - and, with the words "Obama on Sarah Palin" across the TV screen, asserted that the Democrat had "smeared" Palin. McCain finally admitted yesterday that he did nothing of the sort, and that Obama didn't really call Palin a pig. But will as many people hear his retraction as saw that ad?

Another ad takes Obama's committee vote in the Illinois Senate for "comprehensive sexual education" for children - specifically, a plan to teach kindergarten kids how to recognize and report inappropriate touching in case someone tries to molest them - and twists it into something sick. The ad claims that Obama wanted to teach little kids about sex, before teaching them to read, and therefore Obama is "wrong for your family."

McCain and Palin also keep lying about Obama's tax proposals. The Republicans are used to blasting Democrats as "tax and spend," so maybe it's a reflex response; they don't actually read the other guy's plans, they just assume he wants to raise everyone's taxes. But I've read two different independent, nonpartisan, objective analyses of Obama's economic plan so far (I won't ruin them for you by giving away the ending), and both concluded roughly the same thing: that Obama's plans, as outlined, would result in lower taxes for 80 to 90% of Americans. Not higher. Lower. But McCain and Palin keep telling voters that Obama will raise their taxes. How many people will actually read those plans to learn the truth? Very few. Most will simply nod their heads and assume the war hero is giving them the straight dope.

And therein lies the danger. McCain is either poorly informed, extremely confused, or dishonest. Maybe he thinks that he can just keep repeating the lies for seven more weeks and no one will notice. But people have noticed. So he really should stop. Because too many people believe the lies. Do we want this election decided by dishonesty? Don't we want the best person with the best ideas to win? Shouldn't each side present its vision for the future to the country, which will then pick the one it likes best? That's what democracy is all about.

Otherwise, John McCain will start telling people his running mate is....um....Morgan Fairchild! That's right! I met her while moose hunting and asked her if she wanted to be vice president! And if he repeats that one enough, people will soon forget all about this Sarah Palin person.

Hey, that's the ticket!

P.S. I learned today that the phrase "lipstick on a pig" was first coined by our old friend and KCBS colleague Ron Lyons. The first confirmed usage of that expression was in 1985, on the radio in San Francisco, by Ron, describing the Giants' plan to spruce up Candlestick Park, since their plan to build a new ballpark was going nowhere at the time. Those who knew Ron will immediately recognize that it sure sounds like one of his folksy, earthy expressions. But I had no idea the etymologists gave him official credit for that one. Ron, you can take your rightful place in the cultural pantheon now. We miss you.