Change, Truth and Small Town Values


by Phyllis Stenerson, 9/10/08 • National political conventions are carefully staged galas where presidential candidates describe themselves on their own terms and present the image they want the public to like and support. They reach more voters through televised conventions than at any other time and then they hit the campaign trail, repeating the sound bites crafted for the convention.

As the 2008 election approaches, TCDP is receiving many thoughtful opinion columns about candidates and issues. The Soapbox blog offers a space for local opinion on (mostly) national and world issues, including elections.

John McCain’s campaign mantra is “Change” invoking the “maverick” image he’s developed over the past years. He selected little known Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his vice presidential running mate as a proclamation of change. They profess they adhere to “small town values” although they are not clearly defined.

Journalists are saying the real change is in John McCain, not the changes he’ll make for America.

Presidential candidate McCain never mentions incumbent President George Bush who he supported 90% of his time as Senator McCain. He’s trying to run away from the party in which he’s been a United States Senator or Representative for 26 years, the Republican Party that has had control of Washington for the past eight years.

The reality is that he flip-flopped to support virtually all of the Bush administration policies so he could win over the Republican Party’s base of conservative Evangelicals and get the nomination.

‘The Real John McCain,” the New York Times editorial of September 5, 2008 had this to say: “By the time John McCain took the stage on Thursday night, we wondered if there would be any sign of the senator we long respected — the conservative who fought fair and sometimes bucked party orthodoxy… Mr. McCain allowed the practitioners of the politics of fear and division to run the show…the new John McCain, who questioned the patriotism of his opponents as the “me first, country second” crowd and threw out a list of false claims about Barack Obama’s record…He can talk loftily of bipartisanship and allow his team to savage his opponent…What makes that so vexing — and so cynical — is that this is precisely how Mr. Bush destroyed Mr. McCain’s candidacy in the 2000 primaries, with the help of the Karl Rovian team that now runs Mr. McCain’s campaign.”

The editorial went on to describe the convention as “a carnival of partisan rancor. It was not a forum for explaining policies or defining ideals…the Republicans tried to co-opt Mr. Obama’s talk of change and paint themselves as the real Americans…It was, in short, a gathering devoted almost entirely to the culture war refined by Mr. Rove in Mr. Bush’s two campaigns.”

“Attacks, praise stretch truth at GOP convention” wrote
Jim Kuhnhenn for the Associated Press on Wednesday Sep 3, from the convention in St. Paul, MN. “Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Republican supporters held back little Wednesday as they issued dismissive attacks on Barack Obama and flattering praise on her credentials to be vice president. In some cases, the reproach and the praise stretched the truth.”

“I am genuinely surprised that John McCain and his campaign keep throwing out false charges and making false claims without any qualms,” says E. J. Dionne in the September 10 Washington Post Voices. “They keep talking about Sarah Palin’s opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere without any embarrassment over the fact that she once supported it. They keep saying that Barack Obama will raise taxes, suggesting he’d raise them on everybody, when Obama’s plan, according to the Tax Policy Institute, would cut taxes for about 80 percent of households while only about 10 percent would owe more.”

“McCain once campaigned on the idea that the war on terrorism is the ‘transcendent’ issue of our time,” continued Dionne. “Now, he’s stooping to cheap advertising that would be condemned as trivial and misleading in a state legislative race. Boy, do I miss the old John McCain and wonder what became of him. And I wonder if the media will really take on this onslaught of half-truths and outright deception.”

Rachel Maddow, MSNBC commentator, on September 5 called this a “classic Rove tactic.” The reference is to Karl Rove who has played a pivotal role in George W. Bush’s campaigns including those against Al Gore and John Kerry, was an advisor in the Bush White House and is now both a McCain consultant and a FOX TV news commentator. Maddow says Rove’s tactic is to take his candidate’s weakest trait and turn it into a positive.

The campaign slogan of McCain’s opponent, Barack Obama, is “Change You Can Believe In” so McCain is claiming to be a change agent while actually supporting current administration policies. A major McCain rallying cry for change is against lobbyists’ influence in Washington at the same time he employs many high level lobbyists on his campaign staff. Maddow unabashedly uses the words “lie” and “lying.”

“As Campaign Heats Up, Untruths Can Become Facts Before They’re Undone,” is the headline of an article by Washington Post staff writer Jonathan Weisman on September 10. He says that “untrue accusations and rumors have started to swirl at a pace so quick that they become regarded as fact before they can be disproved.”

Weisman quotes John Feehery, a Republican strategist, as saying “the campaign is entering a stage in which skirmishes over the facts are less important than the dominant themes that are forming voters’ opinions of the candidates.”

The aforementioned New York Times Editorial ends with this: “Mr. McCain said he would reach out to ‘any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again.’ Mr. Bush, too, promised the same bipartisanship in his campaigns, and then governed in the most divisive, partisan way. Americans have a right to ask which John McCain would be president. We hope Mr. McCain starts to answer that by halting the attacks on Mr. Obama’s patriotism and beginning a serious, civil debate.”

John McCain and the Republican Party say they stand for “small town values.” Is not truth a small town value?

Fact Checking Resources

PolitiFact, a partnership between the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly – rules on political statements as being true, mostly true, barely true, barely true, false or pants on fire

The Annenberg Political Fact Check is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.