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How Obama Should Respond to McCain's Lying (Part II)

10/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In times of universal deceit, truth-telling becomes a revolutionary act. --George Orwell

Contrary to conventional wisdom, and the assumptions of the Democratic consultant-strategists who guide our nominees to losses, lie-exposure is insufficient to win over the electorate.

Yesterday, I wrote about the political psychology of lying [The Political Psychology of Lies (Part I), September 15, 2008]. Regrettably for those who value truth-telling highly, it is not a simple matter of the liars imploding after their lies are exposed.

To summarize the earlier article, voters will elect people they distrust if they believe that those people are "with them, on their side, will fight for them". Successful Republican national figures are almost all pathological liars -- Sarah Palin displayed all the signs and symptoms of a pathological liar, and John McCain has learned fast. Thus, they will not be embarrassed or ashamed, and they will be very hard to pin down. They will display an air of genuineness even when they are lying.

Thus, gotchas will not lead to a Perry Mason moment where the witness blurts out a confession, and the Obama campaign cannot chase the lies, because that only plays into the hands of the McCain people who would setting the discussion.

Since, therefore, exposing lie-by-lie is not a viable strategy, and since, furthermore, people have shown not only a willingness, but even an enthusiasm, voting for people they do not trust if they think they are on their side, and since, finally, making ad hominem attacks, such about McCain's honor or his campaign's not telling the truth, opens Obama to a poltics-as-usual impression, a different strategy is required both to be effective and to preserve Obama's own brand.

That is, voters will not turn against McCain just because he has become a pathological liar, and Obama points it out.

A different strategy is required, and it emerges from understanding the psychological impact of lying. Certainly, Obama needs to have a bullet-point list of McCain's and Palin's lies. But, the key is to link inextricably those lies, or, more importantly, their culture of lying to what has gone wrong in the last 8 years, how lying has negatively impacted peoples' lives, and how by lying they cannot be on your side.

And, with McCain telling Sarah Palin refusing to talk to Troopergate investigators, and trying to quash subpoenas...is that not reminiscent of the Bush years? Lying and not being willing to be transparent, there's a way of getting at Sarah Palin without attacking her directly. [BTW: a call for a "new attorney general, who will be independent and actually enforce the law, would get a very enthusiastic reception].

The strategy of tying a culture of lying to failed policies tears asunder the connections McCain-Palin lies are making with the electorate. And, it does so without getting personal.

So, first, set up the premise -- everyone, even Karl Rove, agrees that John McCain has sold his soul, and his campaign is based on lies, and tick off a few.

Then, the Republican brand has always been based on lies..and now, unfortunately, the chickens-are-coming-home-to-roost on the American people.

The examples are too numerous to count. Lying about WMD led to cutting and running from Afghanistan and invading Iraq, costing us $600B up to now, and likely $1.2 Trillion before it is done. The result is a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the people that attacked us on 9/11. Lying about the irrelevance of deficits and tax cuts for the wealthy has led to a country that is nearly bankrupt itself and whose debt is held by such friends as China.

Lying about the crisis in social security would lead John McCain to privatize it, and can you all imagine how secure that would be in this market -- anyone want to trust their retirement security to John McCain? Lying about "Brownie doing a heckuva job" led to shameful inaction, tragic and unnecessary loss of life, and the abandonment of New Orleans--and recall Barbara Bush's comment, that "these people were disadvantaged anyhow, so this is working out well for them". Lying about the economy being fundamentally strong to avoid needed regulation has led to financial collapse, wiping out the major asset of the middle class, their homes.

Lying about the ability of the free markets to provide healthcare for all has led to 6 decades of an increasingly expensive insecure healthcare system. We (Obama and Biden) will make healthcare a right, we will not let your health and well-being be subject to market manipulations.Lying about the impact of free trade agreements, and lobbyist-generated loopholes, has led to an outsourcing of high-wage jobs.

And on and on and on. And, so, my fellow Americans, we cannot afford another administration that lies to get their way, eventually the truth catches up, and YOU are the ones that suffer.

Note this also links McCain even more tightly to Bush whose lying is not really even a matter of question anymore. And, it is not name calling, it is tying lies to negative outcomes for the American people, and relying upon a general consensus that McCain-Palin strategy has become based upon lying.

But, there is another, even deeper opportunity the McCain lying machine has provided. As previously noted, McCain wrote in his book, Worth Fighting For, that he runs for President not to institute reform or even out of a grand notion of patriotism, but for his own personal ambition.

Let us repeat: McCain himself wrote (i.e., it was not a misstatement) that he runs for President only for personal ambition.

So, if the Obama campaign would use that to construct its narrative about McCain, they could tie the lying to someone who has sold his soul for his personal ambition. Oh yes, McCain recorded that book on tape, so it those words can be used in his own voice...his own voice.

Let us repeat: McCain's own voice.

And, as previously suggested, brand McCain as Bush's Co-conspirator. ["Brand McCain as Bush's Co-Conspirator", September 12, 2008]. This will be especially effective in the recitation of how lying led to the failures of the last 8 years. Co-conspirators lie.

This election is Obama's to take.

Will he?