From Karl Rove's criticism of McCain's attack ads as going "a step too far," it would be easy to conclude that even the most devious among us has a point at which his moral compass kicks in. But that would be a mistake. Karl Rove wasn't annoyed with McCain for lying but rather for his amateur way of doing so. Rove prefers lies within the deniable range -- the more of them the better. From a Rovian perspective, McCain went long when he should have gone wide.
Rove was giving all of us a peek into how effective political lies are told. When they're in the deniable range, whether they exist or don't is always arguable. The preponderance of evidence doesn't fall to either side. Here are some of the ones we're hearing now.
- Associating McCain's less than admirable behavior in times past, flip-flopping on issues and erratic behavior as all part of him being a "maverick." This is a lie of false association.
- Making Obama's proposed end of tax cuts for the rich appear as an indicator that he'll raise taxes on everyone. This is a lie of logical fallacy.
- Confusing people about the economic crisis by attributing it to greed, but everyone's greed, to both regulation and also lack of regulation, and to both Democrats and Republicans. This is a lie of strategic ambiguity. When it works, people are so confused they don't know whom to blame.
Karl Rove knows that varying the types of lies used and not taking them "too far" keeps most people from detecting their existence.
It isn't enough for Obama and Biden to accuse McCain and Palin of telling lies. Only driving home the harmful effects of their lies and thus removing them from the deniable range will prevent the masters of deceit from winning once more.
Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove.
P.S. For those of you who are interested in more ways lies are told, Paul Ekman's work is excellent. Ekman writes of two primary types of lies -- concealment and falsifying. For the former with relevance to McCain, be sure to see Sydney Schanberg's article, "McCain and the POW Cove-up," in The Nation.