I’m trying to puzzle out just what it is about this campaign that would justify, even as a raw political matter, Obama spokesman Bill Burton’s statement that McCain “is cynically running the sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history. His discredited ads with disgusting lies are running all over the country today. He runs a campaign not worthy of the office he is seeking.”
As far as I can tell, the only McCain ad that might even begin to approach an approximate 500-mile distance to Burton’s rhetoric is one concerning a vote by Obama in the Illinois State Senate for a sex-education bill:
Obama’s one accomplishment?
Legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners.
Learning about sex before learning to read?
Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.
This is unquestionably a tough ad. But is it beyond the bounds? The language in the bill Obama voted for would have provided for sex education for children as young as 5, as its text demonstrates:
Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include…
The term “comprehensive sex education” is the governing phrase in the statute, and governs “grade K,” i.e., kindergarten.
After he cast the vote, Obama quickly clarified that he supported giving children enough information to protect themselves from predators and that the education should be “age-appropriate.” This is the reason people like E.J. Dionne have declared the McCain ad “disgusting.” But even here the language of the statute raises questions about the nature of the information on these matters and the problem of sharing it with a five year-old:
Course material and instruction shall teach pupils to not make unwanted physical and verbal sexual advances and how to say no to unwanted sexual advances and shall include information about verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance.
My guess is that Obama voted for the statute in ignorance, based entirely on his supposition that sex education is an unalloyedly good thing, and when objections were raised to it, he sought to limit the damage at the time — and thought he had succeeded for all time, because when Alan Keyes raised the matter in Keyes’s preposterous Senate campaign against Obama, it just seemed like more of Keyes’s craziness.
But the fact remains. There was a piece of legislation. Obama voted for it (or, rather, voted for it in its first form; it was never made into law and so he didn’t vote for final passage). The legislation said such-and-such. The fact that the legislation dealt with an issue regarding sexuality is Obama’s responsibility, not McCain’s. Running an ad about what it said, without taking note of Obama’s post-hoc clarifications, is entirely within bounds.
The only real problem with the ad is that it suggests it was Obama’s “one accomplishment,” thus suggesting it was Obama’s legislation. That is misleading. Nothing else is.