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Lies proliferate as campaign hits its stride

There are lies, lies, and danged lies, to paraphrase the old saying. Politics is full of it. This year it seems worse than usual. Both sides of the presidential race have been guilty of it.

There are degrees of affronts. Some are worse than others. One kind of lie is simply a distortion of the opponent’s position by taking words out of context and then inducing the target audience to come to conclusions far from the truth. A recent example grew out of the first presidential debate.

Obama did something very unusual in a debate. He actually stated what part of McCain’s platform he agreed with and what parts he disagreed with. I would call this a “yes, but …” kind of approach. Of course, the McCain camp put together a commercial presenting only the statements with which Obama agreed and left out the part where Obama laid out the points with which he disagreed and why.



Another example: John McCain talked about keeping U.S. combat troops staying in Iraq forever . In context, he was saying that they would stay until victory was reached , which he defined as achieving benchmarks, such as peace among the ethnic groups and a stable democracy. Obama’s camp jumped on the “forever” word in order to contrast his position that combat troops should be out of Iraq within 16 months after taking office . Obama’s reasoning was that setting a deadline would force the Iraqis to make the necessary political compromises to power share so that Iraq would be stable when we left.

The next level of lies are those which tell half-truths blown up to full truths. The one that irked me the most is the commercial in which McCain claims Obama will raise your taxes. That one is a lie for 95 percent of listeners to that commercial.



Obama will lower taxes for those who make less than $250,000 per year. The other 5 percent will see their taxes restored to the Clinton era level.

The last category of lies falls into the “danged lies” category. This kind is very dangerous. These are more than just untruths. They play to fears and prejudices of their target audience.

The other day I got an e-mail from a friend forwarding an e-mail she had received . You have certainly seen the e-mails and whisper campaigns claiming Obama was a secret radical Muslim educated in those evil Muslim schools. This new one asserted he was really an Arab in disguise.

Of course, the purpose of these kinds of ads and e-mail whispers is to play on your fear of terrorism, a fear made acute by Sept. 11. It is not much different than the McCarthy-era search for Communists. The rise of the Soviet Union after World War II caused citizens to fear anyone even faintly painted pink or who may have been innocent but who associated with a pinko.

My e-mail correspondent wrote in her forwarding message that she did not know if the claims she was forwarding regarding Obama’s Arab/Muslim ties were true, but “in her gut she believed them.” It appeared to me that her attitude was: dang the facts ” I fear, therefore it is true.

You have seen letters to the editor, too, asserting Obama was a Muslim or reminding you of Obama’s middle name. Perhaps if you hear Obama’s middle name “Hussein” enough, you, too, will actually believe he is indeed a radical Muslim.

Come on, folks. My name means “happy “in any language based on Latin roots. That does not mean I am always happy. “Barack” with various spellings is found in Hebrew as well, and it doesn’t mean he is Jewish.

Since no one has found factual evidence that Obama was a Muslim, e-mails presented to make the case are either based on guilt by association or some attempt at deductive reasoning. Calling him a “secret” Muslim is a handy way of explaining why no hard factual evidence has been found.

It is like the old ads for bogus medical cures. Some formula that was “secret” and “only known by a few people” explained why you couldn’t question the snake oil contents. Obama may have had a father and step father who were Muslims so that association is accepted in these e-mails as verifiable proof Obama was not only a Muslim, he was a radical Muslim. Guilt by association is on shaky grounds in this case.

One father left when Obama was 2 years old and he was shipped away from his step father before he was in high school. Influence was minimal, to say the least, and whatever there was of it certainly not timed for his intellectually formative years. He attended a private high school in Hawaii, a U.S. college, and Harvard Law, and those are cold, hard facts.

Another train of argument is: “Well, he must be a Muslim because he attended grade school in Indonesia and it was a school that was certainly a Muslim religious school devoted to training radical Muslims. Never mind that class mates and school administrators have been interviewed extensively. It is clear the grade/junior high school was a public school, not a religious school.

Never mind either, that Obama has been a practicing Christian for most of his adult life. Never mind that every news agency and every opposing political or religious organization has been searching for proof that he was a card-carrying secret Muslim since he came onto the national stage ” and none has been found. It certainly wasn’t because people weren’t trying to find proof.

Snake oil ads touting their secret ingredients have been removed from the advertising media by government consumer protection laws. However, political ads have no government agency policing them. It is up to the voters to sort this out.

When it comes to political advertising, e-mailed or otherwise, it is strictly “buyer beware.”

Both fear and ignorance are the greatest enemies of democracy. There is not much that can be done to deal with those who make decisions based on “gut feeling” and fear, but ignorance is no excuse. How can you get informed? There are several Web sites run by nonpartisan universities or foundations that have “fact checks.” They have looked into these advertising claims and done research.

One is http://www.factcheck.org, funded by the Annenberg Foundation and located at the University of Pennsylvania. There are other such sites on the Web, though check out the sources of their funding and affiliations first.


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