When it comes to the presidential election — and I am sure this is obvious — I am not always that most objective interlocutor. I often get carried away by what I perceive as the unfairness and ugliness coming from the McCain side, and with my background as an attorney, I react by piling up all of the counter-arguments and writing them in this blog. Then last night I watched the latest edition of the Bill Moyers Journal, thank God for Bill Moyers, and got a nice dose of objectivity.
Bill Moyers was interviewing communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson about dirty campaign tactics. When asked about McCain attacking Obama’s associations, she said that what was most troubling was not the personality attacks, but the misleading policy ones.
What I respond to more so than the attacks and counterattacks about who knew whom where, and why, are those statements that are fundamentally deceptive about something that matters when you cast your vote.
She goes on to specifically criticize the Obama campaign for ads that it has run about McCain’s health care proposal.
What offends me is that if you’re a current senior citizen and you look at [the Obama] ad and you take it at face value, you would believe something that is untrue. The Bush proposal wouldn’t even have let you invest in these accounts. You weren’t eligible. So, first, it wouldn’t have affected you at all. Secondly, as a result, your benefits wouldn’t have been cut in half. And that projection for when there might have been a reduction in benefits would have been into the far distant future under some scenarios.
But more importantly, in the implication that that ad and the current financial context is and you’d be invested in the parts of the market that are now crashing. The Bush proposal would have put you into a category of investments that are not experiencing the same kinds of decline that you’re seeing right now.
Now, you can say, “I oppose the Bush proposal,” and there are many reasons to do it. But you can’t say legitimately that current seniors would have been affected by it at all. Now, that’s a form of deception that is extremely problematic. And I call that dirty politics.
Later McCain’s misleading ads that lead you to falsely believe that Obama was criticizing the troops in Afghanistan. In terms of the character attacks, she is also concerned, as I have been, about how the McCain camp and other sectors of society use Obama’s name and being a Muslim as an acceptable slur.
That, well, that’s the other problem. I mean, look, every time someone says, “Senator Obama is not a Muslim.” You know, how dare you say that he might be a Muslim? How do you hear that if you’re a Muslim? We ought to be able to say Senator Obama is Christian without making being a Muslim something that is something we’ve tagged as being a negative identification.
We’ve taken all these categories and we’ve let people use them to prompt inferences to tie to 9/11, tie to terrorism. And we’ve taken a whole part of our own community as a result, people around the world who identify with us as well, and we’ve labeled them on arbitrary grounds to be something that we ought to despise and worry about and oppose and react viscerally to. The failure in this discourse is that we even let these kinds of inferences sit out there unexamined when they first started percolating to the surface. I’d like to be able to use anybody’s name and not evoke 9/11 without a problem.
I think this part of Jamieson’s interview sums it up best:
Well, the first theme to the ugly politics is deception about each other’s policy positions that will relate to governance.
That’s the first category this week. Meaningful policy deception. You draw inferences from those about the candidates’ stance, and you’re wrong. You draw inferences about what they’ll do in governance, and you’re wrong. The second category is this guilt by association and argument by visual juxtaposition.
And the American people need to say about that what relevance does any of that juxtaposition have for governance? First, what’s the inference and is it accurate? But secondly, does it pass the test of relevance even when you come down to what’s accurate? I’d like to say about all of these guilt-by-association moves, first, what are the basic facts? Let’s make sure we’ve got those right.
And then based on what we know, what do you infer about how they would act as president, about how they would engaged in policy decision making, about the policies they would offer? And if the answer is, I can’t find any way that it forecasts any of that, do we actually believe that because William Ayers hosted a coffee for Barack Obama and they served on a board together and they had some association of school reform efforts in Chicago that Barack Obama supports what William Ayers did?