Friday, August 08, 2008

Jon Chait's Strategy to Tilt McCain

Jonathan Chait at The Plank has two very sharp posts on McCain's "tire gauge lie."

In exhibit A, he takes Time reporter Michael Scherer to task for writing: "In its new hardball mode, McCain's team distributed tire gauges labeled OBAMA ENERGY PLAN, underlining the campaign's contention that Obama offered nothing but more air":

Look, this isn't just a contention, it's a lie. McCain is saying, day after day, that Barack Obama's "energy plan" consists of urging Americans to inflate their tires. That's the entire reason why he keeps saying it. It's just a simple lie. Obama has an energy plan that does not consist of urging people to inflate their tires. Agree with it or not, he has one.

I don't want to pick on Mike, because most reporters are in the habit of repeatign campaign contentions without informing their readers whether or not they have any truth to them. That's journalistic standard operating procedure. It's exactly this practice that makes lying such a successful and common strategy.
In exhibit B, he suggests that Obama call McCain on it:
I'm wondering why Barack Obama doesn't just outright call McCain a liar. All politicians spin, some more agresssively than others, but McCain's claim that Obama's energy policy consists of urging people to inflate their tires is way beyond spin. can't Obama flat-out say, "John McCain is lying. He'll obviously say anything to get elected president. American can't afford another president who has no regard for truth or the facts."

McCain is only hanging in close in the polls because he's seen as a straight-talking maverick. But he's just lying about Obama's energy plan every single day. He did it again today. Doesn't this say something important about McCain's character? Don't the last eight years show us what happens when you campaign in the Rove style and then try to govern? It seems to me that Obama can do something that's both politically valuable and extremely salient to the choice voters face.
I can think of something else that would happen if Obama said McCain was lying -- the honor-obsessed McCain would totally lose it. McCain and his camp really seem to hate Obama's guts now. If Obama called McCain a liar, McCain's contempt for Obama would be impossible to conceal or control. He would look like an angry old man barely in possession of himself. And that could be good for cool-as-ice Obama.

The problem is, personal villification has never been Obama's style. The closest I think we're likely to get is "John McCain isn't telling the truth," which while semantically nearly identical is a good deal short of saying "McCain is lying" or especially "McCain is a liar." From there, McCain, if he's got a brain in his body at all, will say that he knows the real truth about the American people, that the truth hurts, that Obama wouldn't know honesty if it was staring him in the face, etc.

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