Picture this scene: Britney Spears and Paris Hilton stand in front of television cameras at a press conference and declare that they are virgins. What would the reaction be from the public and the media? My money would be on bedlam. The backlash would be immediate. The media would slam the two women as liars and hypocrites. After all, the statement would be obviously false on its face, given that Spears has two kids and anyone with an Internet connection can watch Hilton engaging in sex. Americans would boycott Spears's next recording and whatever it is Hilton does to make money.
Why do I paint such a ridiculous scenario? Well, because it stands in stark contrast to how John McCain is treated. He can seemingly say the most ridiculous and obviously false things, and yet he is never taken to task by the media or the American public for his fabrications.
It all started with McCain's embrace of offshore drilling as a major energy issue, as he relentlessly argued in ads and speeches that the practice was a path to energy independence. He did so even though it is accepted by nearly everyone that offshore drilling would produce no oil for a decade and then have virtually no effect on gas prices. (Bush's own Energy Information Administration has found that offshore drilling would at best result in oil production in 2017 and the effect on pricing would be insignificant, and that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would not result in oil production until 2018, and the effect on pricing would be a reduction of 75 cents a barrel, or less than one percent of the current price.)
Nevertheless, despite knowingly making false statements, McCain's strategy worked. A July Rasmussen survey found that 57 percent of respondents favored offshore drilling, with 56 percent of those asked believing that offshore drilling would cause gas prices to fall. No doubt, McCain's misinformation campaign had something to do with these results.
Not surprisingly, it has seemingly been a strategy of "all lies, all the time" for McCain ever since.
In his speech to war veterans yesterday, McCain had the nerve to accuse Obama of supporting Sen. Jim Webb's G.I. Bill only for political reasons. McCain claimed his own opposition to the bill was an effort to secure better legislation. McCain said: "As a political proposition, it would have much easier for me to have just signed on to what I considered flawed legislation. I'm proud to say that the result is a law that better serves our military, better serves military families, and better serves the interests of our country."
That all sounds nice, except that it's patently false.
The only change made to Webb's bill was a transferability provision (allowing spouses and family members to use benefits), and it was one that Webb said had been in the bill for six years (you can see Webb explain McCain's role in the legislation here). The bill didn't change, only McCain's position did. The real reason McCain relented had more to do with the fact that the G.I. Bill was attached to war spending legislation. McCain and Bush gave in to the veterans benefits to ensure getting their precious money to continue their endless war in Iraq. After all, on last night's edition of Countdown, Keith Olbermann noted that McCain had voted against more than $5 billion in veterans and military benefits in several pieces of legislation, covering such items as health care and equipment for the troops. Did all those bills have flaws, too?
Further evidence lies in the records of Obama and McCain on veterans legislation. The major veterans groups have given far superior grades in this area to Obama. Think Progress collected some of these ratings, pointing out that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a grade of D on his voting record, while awarding Obama a B+; Disabled Veterans of America cited a 20 percent voting record on veterans issues for McCain, while Obama posted an 80 percent total; and Vietnam Veterans of America found that McCain sided with the organization's position only eight times in 23 votes, whereas Obama was with the group on 12 of 13 votes.
There is no way around the fact that by claiming to change the legislation and then supporting it, McCain was able to win political points, providing himself with some cover against charges that he has been largely AWOL in supporting legislation beneficial to veterans. So for McCain to accuse Obama of acting politically regarding Webb's G.I. Bill is not only wrong, but an example of McCain attacking Obama over something of which McCain himself is guilty.
And yet, McCain gets away with it.
McCain also told the veterans: "Behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president." As if McCain hasn't been ambitious in pursuing the White House? In fact, nearly every move McCain has made since he was defeated by Bush in the 2000 race for the GOP nomination has been pointed towards winning the presidency. The list of his flip-flops is lengthy, but amongst the baldest examples of McCain selling out his past ideals for his presidential ambitions are his embrace of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson after earlier calling them "agents of intolerance," his support of making Bush's tax cuts for the rich permanent after he had voted against them at their inception, his vote against an anti-torture bill after he had been a vocal opponent of torture for his entire political career, his decision to abandon the campaign finance reform bill that was named after him, and his move during this year's GOP primaries to distance himself from his own immigration reform legislation, even saying at one point that he would not vote for the same bill if it came up for a vote then.
Again, McCain can make remarks that are obviously, on their face, untrue, but he is not taken to task for his actions.
The G.I. Bill wasn't the only issue McCain was dishonest about when he spoke to the veterans yesterday. He accused Obama of shifting positions on Iraq, when it is McCain who has gone from "they'll welcome us as liberators" and "the war will be easy" declarations in 2003 to his "we knew it would be a long and tough war all along" laments of 2007. He also talked about Obama wanting to "legislate" defeat, when it is McCain's narrative of "winning" in Iraq and the success of the surge that ignores the fact that the goals stated by Bush in his January 10, 2007 address to the American people announcing the surge have not been met (a point noted in a report released by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO), which, I noted on June 24, found that things aren't as rosy in Iraq as McCain would have you believe). And McCain questioned Obama's judgment while referencing the crisis in Georgia, even though it was the Bush-McCain foreign policy that mired the U.S. in Iraq and left its military too weak to address any other threats, including the one posed by the Russians. (I discussed the U.S. military's historically low levels of preparedness in more detail here.) Of course, that doesn't even take into account the fact that one of McCain's top foreign policy advisers, Randall Scheunemann, has been paid nearly $1 million by the Georgian government since 2004 to lobby for the country (taking a payment as recently as April 17 of this year), which leaves McCain's tough talk on behalf of Georgia feeling bought and paid for.
Backlash against McCain for any of these statements or actions? Nope.
So we're left with this conundrum: If Britney Spears or Paris Hilton were to lie about their virginity status, the media and public would go into apoplexy, but the Republican nominee for the presidency can be equally dishonest about important policy issues, and virtually nobody says a word. And if an NBC reporter with a conservative bent, Andrea Mitchell, even suggests that there is a possibility that McCain might not have been in a sound-proof area during Obama's appearance at Rick Warren's faith forum, the McCain campaign responds with a letter charging bias in the press. The McCain campaign seems to think that getting a free ride from the media is its birthright.
Sadly, I think the answer to this disparity lies in the interests of Americans. If voters cared as much about the issues facing our country as they did about Spears and Hilton, the candidates' positions and statements would get the same level of scrutiny the media now focuses on celebutantes and their sex lives. Hopefully Americans will become more engaged as the election nears, at least enough to get McCain to start telling the truth. The more honest McCain is about his beliefs and record, the better it is for the Obama campaign.
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