Charles Babington -- find new work!
-MSNBC commentator Keith Olberman, after Barack Obama's speech accepting the Democratic nomination.
If you know the name Charles Babington at all, that's probably where you know it from. A political analyst for the Associated Press, Babington wrote what anyone hearing Obama that night would consider a pretty inaccurate take on that speech. Babington, not even waiting until the speech was finished, panned the speech as unspecific and flowery. Anchoring the coverage with Chris Matthews, Olbermann found the piece and brought it to his audience's attention before the applause for Obama's speech had even fallen off.
Yesterday, I came across a piece by Babington titled "Will Public Believe McCain 'Doublespeak' -- Or the Press?" -- although it might as well be titled "Babington Redeemed."
The "Straight Talk Express" has detoured into doublespeak.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a self-proclaimed tell-it-like-it-is maverick, keeps saying his running mate, Sarah Palin, killed the federally funded Bridge to Nowhere when, in fact, she pulled her support only after the project became a political embarrassment. He accuses Democrat Barack Obama of calling Palin a pig, which did not happen. He says Obama would raise nearly everyone's taxes, when independent groups say 80 percent of families would get tax cuts instead.
Even in a political culture accustomed to truth-stretching, McCain's skirting of facts has stood out this week. It has infuriated and flustered Obama's campaign, and campaign pros are watching to see how much voters disregard news reports noting factual holes in the claims.
He points out that McCain had originally seemed to plan an honorable campaign, as I did yesterday. McCain, in 2000, was the victim of an incredibly dirty campaign, in which the Bush team smeared him as insane and his adopted daughter as illegitimate. "John McCain has an illegitimate black child," the whisper campaign repeated throughout South Carolina, scoring Bush big points with the racist, the stupid, and the eager to hate in that state.
Afterward, McCain seemed to have a sore spot for dirty campaigning. When the Swift Boat Vets attacked Kerry's history, McCain rose to his defense, calling the attacks "dishonest and dishonorable."
But that was then, this is now. It may be that McCain found the high road easy to travel earlier in this campaign, but left it when it got too hard to take. As soon as he was down and things turned desperate, McCain turned to low road politics -- he hasn't turned back since.
It was in the GOP primary, when everyone had written him off as over, that McCain began attacking opponents with false claims. In his defense, Mitt Romney started it, dumping more and more money into his largely self-financed campaign to run mostly untrue attack ads. McCain responded in kind, accusing Romney of supporting unconditional withdrawal from Iraq -- a ridiculous claim that was obvious to anyone paying attention. The Republican primary devolved into a contest of competing lies -- a contest John McCain eventually won.
Having embraced the dark side in a big ol' bearhug, McCain -- already famous for his rage problems -- waited until his opponent was the presumptive nominee, then unleashed all that rage on Obama. Judging by the tone of McCain's campaign lately, I really do believe he's come to hate Obama. And I don't mean "hate" in the hyperbolic, "I hate peas" sense -- I mean "hate" as in the crush and destroy and punish sense. After Bush and Romney, McCain seems to have concluded that all his opponents are literally evil. Obama bears the misplaced rage left over from McCain's mistreatment by his Republican opponents.
This would also explain McCain's total disregard for the truth. Palin keeps repeating her false Bridge to Nowhere story, despite the fact that it's now thoroughly debunked. McCain campaign ads have been nearly nothing but lies since the general campaign started. McCain, it seems, has been trained by his mistreatment and his anger to believe that truth and untruth don't matter, that all politicians lie, and that the best strategy is a strategy of paranoia -- you will be attacked unfairly, unless you attack unfairly first. So John McCain, who once demanded that an unfair attack ad be pulled, now runs lying attack ads without a second thought. Honesty, integrity, and honor are for chumps; you can be a decent man or you can be a winner. McCain has apparently made his choice.
McCain, [says Dan Schnur, a former McCain aide who now teaches politics at the University of Southern California], "tried it his way. He had a poverty tour and nobody covered it. He had a national service tour, and everybody made fun of it. He proposed these joint town halls" with Obama, "and nothing come of it. Through the spring and early summer, that approach didn't work. You can't blame him for taking a step back and reassessing."
McCain, not winning on the issues, abandoned the issues. So now we have "lipstick on a pig" and ads coming a millimeter short of calling Barack Obama a pedophile. Losing on the issues, McCain decided to run an almost entirely issueless campaign worthy of George W. Bush. It was Bush who, losing the debate on stem cell research, turned it instead to idiotic crap like whether windsurfing was elitist or not. McCain, losing on the economy, wants us to argue over whether or not Barack Obama is sexist. Both are trivial and, frankly, brain-dead debates framed by those too weak or too cowardly to take on the issues.
Ask yourself this; if McCain has trained himself to hate Barack Obama as an excuse to run what any honest observer would have to call a dishonest, dishonorable, and unintelligent campaign, who will he train himself to hate in the White House? Would this man, who thinks every opponent is now a hated enemy, be any good at all in international negotiations? Would he be able to work with a congress dominated by the opposition party?
That's the debate we should be having. And it'd be a debate that John McCain had brought upon himself. If this is the way he runs his campaign -- with lies and smears and the most shameful attacks -- how would he run the country?
I don't think it's unreasonable to believe he'd be the same man as president as he is as candidate. McCain, who has a penchant for stealing other candidates' messages, might as well go back to 2004 and steal one from there...
"Four more years! Four more years..."