Commentary Magazine


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Real Outrage, Fake Outrage

Remember how, earlier this week, Barack Obama condemned the “fake outrage” expressed by the McCain campaign against the “lipstick on a pig” ad? Today, the New York Times publishes an Obama press release in the form of a news story called “McCain Barbs Stir Outcry as Distortions.”  The piece is a fascinating exercise, like so much in the past few weeks, in the application of a double standard.

The notion that the McCain campaign has characterized Obama’s positions and claims in a fashion beyond the bounds of acceptable politics is patently absurd. This is what political campaigns of all stripes do; they probe for weaknesses and contradictions in policy proposals, speeches, and off-the-cuff remarks. They set their in-house policy analysts on the proposals of rival campaigns and pick them apart. If they can find a scintilla of an iota of fact in a regression analysis of the unanticipated costs of a tax plan, or a health-care plan, or any other plan, they will take that and use it as a weapon.

This is industry standard, and it comes with the built-in counterattacks on distortions and injustices and unfairnesses. Obama does it, McCain does it, Kerry did it, Bush did it, Gore did it, Clinton certainly did it, the Elder Bush did it. If McCain claims that Obama’s tax plan will raise taxes on the middle class, and a liberal think tank called the Tax Policy Forum objects that he will actually lower taxes more than McCain, that does not constitute proof either that the charge is true or that McCain is engaged in knowing distortion. And yet that is precisely what the Times, without qualification, insists:  “Mr. McCain repeatedly, and incorrectly, asserted that Mr. Obama would raise taxes on the middle class, even though analysts say he would cut taxes on the middle class more than Mr. McCain would.”

Here, for example, is a well-reasoned argument that McCain’s charge is correct. Asserting flatly that McCain “incorrectly” characterized the Obama tax plan is itself a distortion and a falsehood.

You want fake outrage? Here’s a perfect example of fake outrage:

“In running the sleaziest campaign since South Carolina in 2000 and standing by completely debunked lies on national television, it’s clear that John McCain would rather lose his integrity than lose an election,” Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said in a statement.

In South Carolina in 2000, a flyer was produced alleging that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate child of color — referring to the Bangladeshi baby he and his wife had adopted ten years earlier. Calling Barack Obama a “celebrity,” making fun of his community organizing, and objecting to “lipstick on a pig”and comparing that to South Carolina in 2000 is like comparing a game of Candyland to a rugby match.

That, too, is campaign standard. And so, of course, is the New York Times acting like the press agent for the Democratic candidate.