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Lies, Damn Lies, and the McCain/Palin Campaign

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The McCain/Palin campaign has gained ground on the Obama/Biden campaign not because it has proven to more Americans through rational argument that its proposals for addressing the nation’s domestic, foreign, and global problems are superior but because it has successfully used chicanery and fallacious emotional appeals, well poisoning and personal attacks to manipulate and deceive more Americans into changing their minds.  Unfortunately, unless Americans start demanding rational argument before endorsing a candidate, they are likely to receive more of the same once the “victor” takes office. 

This week, the media was resonating with the allegation that Obama had made a sexist remark about Governor Sarah Palin by comparing her to a pig with lipstick. And what was the basis of this allegation?  At an event on Tuesday night in Norfolk Virginia, Obama used the folk metaphor of “putting lipstick on a pig” to characterize McCain’s claim that he would bring change to Washington as being like trying to put lipstick on a pig.  Obama said, “It’s still a pig.”  The only connection to Palin was a joke she herself had made at the Republican National Convention.  “What,” she asked, “is the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom?”  Answer:  “lipstick.”  The McCain/Palin campaign quickly responded by placing an ad on the Internet charging Obama with sexism and asking for an apology.

If Obama denied the charge, which he, in fact, did, he would dignify it. On the other hand, if he ignored the charge, then a doubt would be created as to whether or not it was true.  Either way, misgivings would be created about whether Obama was really a sexist. 

Unfortunately, like crying rape when there was no rape, such a tactic tends to make a mockery of a serious issue.  Sexism is still a serious problem in the United States and it should not be so used for political gain.  In fact, the history of the McCain campaign makes clear that what it is really after is the White House.

For example, this past August, the McCain campaign published a video ad on the Internet this time portraying Obama as “The One.” The video mocked Obama with a scene from the movie, The Ten Commandments, in which the waters parted for Moses (played by Charlton Heston).  At one point it is stated “He can do no wrong” and then the video shows CBS news correspondent Lara Logan ask Obama, “Do you have any doubts?” and Obama answering “Never.”  Unfortunately, the real question Logan asked was “Do you have any doubts about your foreign affairs experience?”  The omission was designed to make it look like Obama did not have any doubts about anything whatsoever.

In another part of the video, Obama states, "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."  But this too was lifted out of context.  It was said in the context of a closed meeting with congressional representatives during which, referring to his speech delivered in Berlin, Obama stated that the 200,000 people who came to his speech came not just for him.  This part was omitted for the deliberate purpose of making him sound arrogant.  Obama in fact never said he was “The One” but rather that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and here is the context in which these words appeared: 

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You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. It will not be resolved on even a Super Duper Tuesday. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have so little, who've been told that they cannot have what they dream, that they cannot be what they imagine. Yes, they can.

Obama’s real point was therefore to emphasize that the people are the ones who must affect change.  Yet, the ad drew the fallacious inference from this statement that Obama “has anointed himself ready to carry the burden of The One.” This is the opposite of what Obama was saying, namely that the people, not he, must bear the burden.

So what of this ad’s attempt to make Obama look arrogant?  Why would the McCain campaign have even attempted to do this in the first place?

On September 4, Republican Representative Lynn Westmoreland referred to Obama and his wife as “uppity.” “Just from what little I’ve seen of [Mrs. Obama] and Mr. Obama,” he said, “they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity.”  This term is strongly emotive, pejorative and a racially charged stereotype of a black person who is arrogant.  Facts:  “The One” depicted a black man who was arrogant, and Westmoreland actually used the bigoted term.

In his speech at the Republican National Convention, McCain said,

I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as President. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not. 

However, it is false that Obama has not “worked with members of both parties to fix problems.” For example, he co-sponsored with Republican Senator Tom Coburn (OK), the “Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act,” a bill that sought to create a search engine and database to track how government spent tax payers’ money, and which held elected officials accountable for those expenditures.   He has also co-sponsored with Republican Senator Richard Lugar (IN) the “Lugar-Obama Proliferation and Threat Reduction Initiative,” a measure signed into law by President Bush, which expanded the State Department’s ability to detect and interdict weapons of mass destruction and their components. 

But there are not just factual misrepresentations here.  The plot thickens because McCain is also claiming to “have the scars to prove it.”  What scars?  The manipulative device he is using is a form of meaning from association, a psychological version of the illicit advertising technique of bait and switch.  McCain does, indeed, have scars from his captivity in Viet Nam and he wants his audience to associate these with his success as a bipartisan politician.  However, while he may be able to speak volumes about what it is to be a POW, the “scars” he has to prove it does not count as experience in bipartisan politics.  Unfortunately, most Americans will not catch the psychological manipulation, and McCain’s speech writer is banking on it.

On July 30, Obama made the following comment:

There are things that you can do individually though to save energy…Making sure your tires are properly inflated, simple thing, but we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much.

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Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. is a political analyst and media critic. His most recent book is Mass Surveillance and State Control: The Total Information Awareness Project (Palegrave Macmillan, 2011). His latest article is "The Information War" in (more...)
 

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