There are two major mistakes that can be made in Washington, DC. One is to be caught telling a lie. The other is to be caught telling the truth. Based on recent experience, the second evokes more outrage than the first.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's rendition of her excellent Bosnia adventure is an example of the first. She was not sent to Bosnia because the president could not go (He was there two months earlier.) Unlike our troops in Iraq, she was greeted with flowers, not sniper fire. This was not a misstatement late at night by a tired candidate -- although her husband continues to assert this falsehood. She reported the fictional event at least three times, never in the dead of night waiting for the 3 am phone call. This was not a slip of the tongue. This was not a misstatement. This was a lie. But the courtly protocol inside the Capital Beltway is to not use that three-letter word and to forgive quickly those many politicians who commit this offense frequently. "Spin" is used where possible to disguise the fact that it was a lie. And it was also an insult to the military who would face a courts martial for filing a false combat action report and to the Secret Service for allegedly letting the First Lady and her daughter go into so dangerous a situation. Despite this, the Obama campaign has not aped the Republican attack machine by constant harping on these facts.
Senator Barack Obama committed a greater offense by Washington, DC standards. He committed truth. However poorly phrased his California fundraiser comments, recorded by the Huffington Post, were true. The people of this nation are angry at being left with a war without end and an economy that has slipped into recession. They are bitter that the promises made by the last two administrations have not been met. A disproportionate share of those who serve, fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan come from small towns and rural areas while the rest of the country is fed the bromide of painless patriotism. Average wages, adjusted for inflation have not risen. Family income has risen only to the extent that second earners have been added. Virtually all of the productivity growth since 2000 has gone to corporate profits and exploding CEO pay. And "creative" financial schemes on Wall Street are leading to recession and foreclosures. Of course middle and working class people are frustrated angry and bitter, they have every right to be.
And what about the inelegant (a spin word) phrasing about immigrants, guns and religion? There is a core of truth here. Read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? to see how conservatives use "Guns, God and Gays" and other social issues to con voters into voting against their own economic interests. That is the core of the Republican campaign strategy. And in times of stress, more people tend to look for scapegoats or to seek solace and hope in religion or other comforting communities.
In Washington, DC, however, such truth appears to be an unpardonable sin. Because he has spoken of the frustration of small towns and working class people, the right wing media brands him an elitist. Sen. Clinton proves that she and Senator John McCain are indeed friends by echoing the elitist line. Both Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are multimillionaires. Senator McCain, while downplaying the housing crisis and doing nothing for the 200,000 veterans who sleep on the streets, has to decide which of his 6 or 7 homes to sleep in at night. Senator Obama's mistake was being from a lower middle class background and understanding the plight of people in that situation today. Unforgivable.
Perhaps truth telling is considered worse than lying because so few in Washington practice the former and so many the latter. "Mission Accomplished." "The United States does not torture." "We have turned a corner in Iraq." "My votes are not influenced by campaign contributions."
It is not only small town residents who are angry and want change. And bitterness can be found across the country from the grave sites of our fallen youth to the foreclosure signs spreading across neighborhoods.
But do not tell that truth, it will get you in trouble with the elites. Lie instead, that's ok.