Politics & Policy

The Best Policy

Tell the truth, Senator.

Barack Obama is still licking the wounds from his connection to a sharp-tongued reverend. As he does, critics are setting in on the unrepentant terrorist with whom he worked and associated. A criminal trial of a close Obama friend in Chicago is proving to be a big added embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has drawn even with Obama in national polls. A sound victory in Pennsylvania Tuesday could push her ahead of Obama in the national popular vote count for the primary. Although she cannot catch Sen. Obama in elected delegates, Sen. Clinton can still build a case for the unelected super-delegates to hand her the Democratic nomination for president.

It’s tough times for Barack Obama. The last thing he needs right now is for people to question his honesty. It is anyone’s guess why he is willingly giving them reasons to do so.

On Friday, Obama addressed a crowd of Democrats in Erie, Pa., throwing them some red meat on his Republican opponent’s statements about the economy. “John McCain yesterday said that we are, that, that during George Bush’s tenure, the economy actually made great progress,” Obama said. “That’s his quote.”

The crowd went so far as to boo McCain at this line. As they should have — such a statement by McCain would suggest he is shockingly out of touch with the economic reality that most people are experiencing today. But look at what McCain actually said about the economy on Thursday in that appearance on Bloomberg Television:

Peter Cook: Do you think that when Americans are asked, “Are you better off today than before George Bush took office over seven years ago,” what will their answer be?

McCain: Certainly at this time we are in very challenging times. We all recognize that. Families are sitting around the kitchen table this evening and figuring out whether they’re going to be able to keep their home or not. They’re figuring out why it is that someone in their family or their neighbor has lost their job. There’s no doubt that we are in enormous difficulties. I think if you look at the overall record and millions of jobs having been created, et cetera, et cetera, you could make an argument that there’s been great progress economically over that period of time. But that’s no comfort. That’s no comfort to families now that are facing these tremendous economic challenges.

A bit different from what Obama suggested, isn’t it? In fact, it’s the opposite of the representation Obama made. In politics, it is par for the course to misrepresent your opponent’s statements, at least to take them out of context slightly. Everybody does it, and sometimes it is effective — but only when it is done with competence. For all of his talk about a “new politics,” Obama appears to be practicing the “old politics” — and he’s not very good at it.

In 2004, Republicans enjoyed great success by misrepresenting John Kerry’s famous “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” The line, referring to Kerry’s votes on a war-supplemental appropriations bill, was dumb enough all on its own. But he was not, as many say even today, expressing a sudden change of mind that would have bolstered the famous “flip-flopping” theme that would later do Kerry in. Kerry had actually cast a protest vote against funding for the war, but without casting a “no” vote to block even its consideration. Yet this explanation was far too complicated for anyone unfamiliar with Senate parliamentary procedures (a.k.a most of the country). Kerry thus hanged himself, and “I voted for it before I voted against it” is now engraved on his political tombstone.

Such an attack cannot work, however, when it is done with misquotation or by blatantly taking someone’s words out of an easily understood context. During March, Obama was misrepresenting McCain’s January comment on troops remaining in Iraq for “a hundred years.” This was truly an amateur job. Even news outlets very favorable to Obama, including the New York Times, had to concede that he was basically lying. Frank Rich used the word “libel.” Asked whether U.S. troops might remain in Iraq for as many as 50 years, McCain had said the following:

Make it a hundred. We’ve been in South Korea … we’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’s fine with me. I hope that would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting and equipping and motivating people every single day.

Obama’s mischaracterization of McCain as wanting 100 years of war backfired, mostly thanks to YouTube — and it backfired even more when Obama denied saying things that anyone could easily find him saying on YouTube. Friday’s falsehood, like the older one, offers proof of the Internet’s value as a political truth squad (thank you, Al Gore). Even if the worldwide web has made it easier to spread lies, it has also become an excellent tool for putting the crudest ones to rest. Both of the linked videos make Obama look like a fool and a liar.

The remarks from Pennsylvania on Friday represent a second bad data point in measuring Obama’s honesty. At the very least, they render a poor judgment on his aides’ competence at preserving his public appearance of honesty. With her much more egregious lie about coming under sniper fire in Bosnia, Hillary Clinton dealt her own campaign a serious setback. Now Obama is beginning to demonstrate a deceptive pattern — and a badly executed one at that. Voters are lied to all the time, but obvious and easily proven lies are insulting to everyone.

– David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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