Washington Matters


A Day to Rethink This Campaign


John McCain and Barack Obama are putting politics on hold today to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Let's hope their staffs also put politics aside today and that everyone takes time for some serious thought about what's happening to this campaign.

Once upon a time there were two good and noble presidential candidates who looked at the country and the world and concluded that much was seriously out of whack. They saw a mountain of serious and difficult problems faced hard-working or vulnerable people from Cleveland to Darfur while lawmakers in Washington and dictators in several world capitals engaged in everything from ugly politics to cruel atrocities. In Washington, petty, partisan politics got in the way of constructive behavior as the country suffered. So the two good men sought the presidency, promising to change the way we do business. Both had been victims of below-the-belt attacks -- one in his 2000 run for president, the other in this year's primary campaign -- and they vowed to change all that. And then the fall campaign began in earnest -- and the words people are likely to remember most about the launch are "pigs" and "lipstick."

Seriously, folks, what on earth is going on?

The last two weeks have seen a rapid descent into the old ways, and promises to the American people that this year would be different have been forgotten. McCain's people feel aggrieved because they believe their vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, has been the victim of scurrilous attacks on the Web. They see the hand of the Obama campaign behind the attacks, though there is no proof of that.

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In the last few days, this has reached an all-time low. McCain, employing the same people who ran the Bush campaign and destroyed him in 2000, reacted with horror to Obama for describing the GOP claim to the "change" mantra as a pig with lipstick. McCain's camp prepared completely dishonest ads accusing Obama of describing Palin as a pig. Presumably, that was part of an effort to respond to every unfair attack on Palin, but in this case the McCain team pulled the trigger on the wrong target. McCain used the phrase himself to describe Hillary Clinton's health care plan just a year ago.

The McCain team also put out an education ad that is totally false. It accuses Obama of wanting to teach sex education to kindergarten kids, a distortion of a bill that Obama voted for that would have allowed kindergarten teachers to give "age appropriate" advice to children so they'd know the difference between an affectionate hug from an uncle and sexual molestation that needed to be brought to the attention of parents.

The reaction of Obama's supporters, meanwhile, has been to goad him into sharpening his attacks and adopting similar tactics, giving him the dubious advice that unless he does, he's in danger of losing in a landslide.

Please!  We need and deserve better than this. The U.S is fighting two wars. Our economy is hurting. Credit, housing and stock markets are in real trouble. People are losing jobs and having trouble making ends meet. We have a health care crisis that is crippling employers and individuals. We have mounting debt and a looming crisis in Medicare. And many pension funds are nearing collapse.

And we're arguing about lipstick on a pig!

Let me hasten to give the press plenty of blame, especially the cable networks and talk radio hosts who love to milk every controversy. Their need to fill time means they repeat the the shrillest, most melodramatic and confrontational moments of the campaign ad nauseam -- all the while repeating the accompanying lies and distortions even if they are known and labeled as such. Of course, this eggs on the campaigns to do more of the same because, after all, they are getting free publicity and a chance to prolong the news cycle for every false claim.

So here's a suggestion. When McCain and Obama get together in New York today to mark the anniversary of 9/11, why don't they take a little time and go off by themselves for a serious talk about the kind of campaign they're running. And why don't they pledge to just say no. American voters really do want change, not just talk about change. And the kind of campaign we're getting is the same as past campaigns, only more so. They need to make a pact to stop it and stop it now.  




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