I sort of had a feeling that as Obama regained the lead in the polls, the press might ramp up scrutiny in adherance to some sort of “balance from on high” editorial requirement. Lo and behold, Michael Scherer of TIME accuses Obama of advertising perfidy. Here’s the basis for Scherer’s criticism.
You want attack your opponent for supporting Policy X, because your pollsters tell you such an attack would help your candidate. But there’s a problem. Your opponent doesn’t clearly support Policy X. So you send off researchers to find an old legislative vote that you can use in an ad to mislead the public about your opponent’s plans, without lying outright.
According to Scherer, here is the first such example of Obama employing this tactic.
…Obama says that McCain voted three times to privatize Social Security, and that he is willing to risk the nation’s retirement program on the risky stock market. Now, it is true that McCain did support President Bush’s effort to privatize a portion of Social Security. But it is not true that McCain is running for president on a platform of turning Social Security over to Wall Street…
This might be a sensible argument were it not for the rather inconvenient fact that McCain actually supports the privatization of Social Security. But don’t take my word for it, take Scherer’s:
Here is what [McCain’s] campaign says: “John McCain supports supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts–but not as a substitute for addressing benefit promises that cannot be kept…” (emphasis added)
Now, I’m no trained logician, but if I can properly recall Scherer’s argument, the key to the “trick” depends on the attacked candidate not actually support the policy, hence the misrepresentation. But as Scherer points out in what can only be interpreted as a botched Jedi mind trick, McCain actually does support privatizing social security.
Anyway, Scherer goes on, though somewhat more fairly:
The second Obama ad is even more egregious in misleading people about McCain’s positions. The ad says McCain “voted against tax incentives for alternative energy–against ethanol, against fuel cells, against hybrids, against electric cars, against wind and solar, against geothermal.” Then the ad says McCain wants to give $4 billion in tax breaks to oil companies. This is all a nifty bit of misdirection. The oil company tax breaks the ad refers to are a corporate tax cut McCain favors, which would apply to almost all profitable companies, not just oil companies–including those companies that work on wind, solar and biofuels.
Granted, this is more misleading than other Obama ads, but the key difference between this type of ad and several of McCain’s ads is that it has the benefit of being true. McCain’s tax plans would, as Scherer admits, provide immense tax relief to oil companies, and McCain did votes against subsidies for the renewable energy sources listed (here are the votes referenced).
By contrast, McCain’s ads feature outright lies and grotesquely warped accusations. The attempt to “balance” outright repeated lies of McCain’s ads with Obama’s factual, if interpretive, advertising is shallow, pedantic, and misses the point entirely.