Despite a centuries-old tradition of mudslinging and dirty tricks, American politics in the past has been surprisingly polite in one small circumscribed area — the naming of liars.
Presidential election campaigns have stooped to burglary, vote-rigging, innuendo, smears and swift-boating, but the actual words lie, lies, liar, have been surprisingly rare until now.
McCain has lied his way through this campaign. He lied about Obama’s position on clean coal, on offshore drilling, and on health care. He lied about his own, and his running mate’s record on “earmarks and pork.”
He’s even lied about what kind of cars he owns (hint: several are not American made).
The Obama campaign allowed the anniversary of September 11 to pass, and then began to call McCain on his lies, and soon after the US media picked up the story. Everyone from the New York Times to the Republican cheerleaders at Fox News have run stories on McCain’s messy public divorce from the truth.
Even Karl Rove, the notorious pit-bull of the sleazy Bush campaigns, has called this Republican machine on its lies, telling Fox News “McCain has gone in his ads one step too far, and sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know, beyond the 100-per cent-truth test.”
Rove’s point was not that McCain should have been telling the truth about his opponent, but that his lies should have retained the appearance of truth, or at least the mask of deniability. Remember “weapons of mass destruction”, or Saddam’s connection to 9/11?
In an age when lies can be caught on video and exposed to millions in a matter of minutes, why bother to tell them in the first place? The cynical answer, and the one that applies in this case, is that even when exposed as lies, accusations will stick if you repeat them often enough.
If Americans are hearing 20 times a day that Barrack Obama plans to raise taxes on the poor, and only once a week that this is a complete fabrication, what are they going to believe?
Canada is also in the midst of a national election campaign, and last week mailboxes in the Yukon got a taste of the blatant lie in action. It came in the form of a Conservative mail-out, bearing the pictures of Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion. Above the PM’s picture were the words “keep it”. Above the opposition leader’s, “lose it.”
The words referred to the Conservative’s $1200 child tax credit, supposed to stand in place of a comprehensive national child-care plan. The text of the pamphlet goes on to explain that the Liberals will take away the tax credit. The problem is, it’s a lie. Dion has never said he would axe the tax credit. In fact, he’s promised to double it for low-income Canadians.
The Harper campaign knows that Dion has no plans to axe the child-care tax credit. So why lie? Simple: because lying works. Rove may turn up his nose at McCain’s clumsy mendacity, but he himself orchestrated a symphony of lies, obfuscations, and false accusations that along with a little skullduggery with the voting machines, twice put G.W. Bush in the White House.
Harper’s Republican-style campaign is no accident. Always an admirer of the American system and of Bush-style conservatism, Harper lists Bush pollster Frank Luntz among his old friends. In 2006 Luntz came to address the Canadian right-wing Civitas Society, and stopped in for a private meeting with the PM.
Luntz is a highly suspect character, a partisan pollster who has been censured for releasing questionable figures favouring Republicans, and then refusing to reveal the numbers on which the “results” were based. He is best known for his ability to “frame” issues, to smear opponents, and to create false impressions.
Harper and several of his cabinet ministers have direct or indirect links to the ultra-right-wing American Council for National Policy, either directly or through its subsidiary organizations such as Focus on the Family, the Promise Keepers, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Coalition of America, the Leadership Institute and the National Rifle Association.
In the US election, American voters are offered a choice to endorse or reject the record of the Bush years. It may not be completely clear where an Obama presidency might lead, but without doubt John McCain represents the same old Republican pattern of lies, warmongering and government by fear and manipulation.
Who knew Canadians would be facing the exact same choice?