Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Editorial: Mccain goes 'from straight talk to smear campaign'

The St. Petersburg Times pulls no punches with this assessment of the dishonest and dishonorable turn that John McCain has taken in his quest for the presidency.

The Straight Talk Express has taken a nasty turn into the gutter. Sen. John McCain has resorted to lies and distortions in what sounds like an increasingly desperate attempt to slow down Sen. Barack Obama by raising questions about his patriotism. Instead of taking the Democrat down a few notches, these baseless attacks are raising more questions about the Republican's campaign and his ability to control his temper.


McCain has even attempted to plant doubts about whether Obama is a socialist. He said earlier this month that the Democrat's voting record "is more to the left than the announced socialist in the United States Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.'' Asked whether he thought Obama is a socialist, McCain responded: "I don't know. All I know is his voting record, and that's what people usually judge their elected representatives by.''

This is a classic smear campaign. As the Times' PolitiFact notes, the National Journal rated Obama the most liberal senator by analyzing just 99 of 442 votes last year. He did not finish near the top in two previous years, and other ranking services rate his record as significantly less liberal than Sanders'. But McCain was not troubled by the details. He mentioned Obama and socialist in the same sentence, and the seeds of doubt were planted.

Virtually all candidates, including Obama, distort their opponent's record. But McCain has gone beyond reasonable bounds. The self-described "happy warrior'' in the 2000 presidential campaign has turned sour in 2008, and the candor and straight talk that once made him such an attractive candidate are rapidly disappearing.
I disagree with none of the points made in this editorial. John McCain's behavior is disgusting. He is slandering Barack Obama, insulting American voters, and demeaning himself with this win-at-all-costs smear campaign.

My only argument is with the Times' rhetoric with regard to the "socialism" smear. McCain did indeed cross the line when he responded that he did not know if Obama is a socialist. He knows better, and his willingness to create ambiguity offers a revealing look at his character.

But the editorial goes tone deaf when it attempts to disprove the socialism smear by challenging Obama's undeserved characterization as the senate's most liberal member.

Liberalism and socialism are not the same thing. You do not undermine the socialism allegation by defending Obama against the "most liberal senator" charge. You merely reinforce the lie that liberals are socialists, which only strengthens the hand of the scurrilous conservatives who worked so hard to create that misperception in the first place.

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