Thursday, October 23, 2008

The many messages of John McCain

Interesting post from Taeger Goddard of CQPolitics.com (http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/politicalinsider/2008/10/mccain-off-message.html), basically regurgitating an Obama campaign memo pointing out the lack of coherence from John McCain's campaign. It's amazing to see an election where the Democrat is running the good campaign, and the Republican is flailing about. It hasn't been that way for a while.

------

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign counted ten different themes used by the McCain campaign today alone -- none of which were about the economy. While the Obama campaign calls this "flailing," almost anyone would agree that pushing so many messages at once goes against all lessons of modern political campaigning.

The entire memo from the Obama campaign is below:

The Erratic John McCain and the Multiple Messages of His Campaign, 15 Days Out:

1) Joe the Plumber Needs More Publicity: ""McCAIN's MESSAGE 'today, tomorrow and every day forward,' per a senior aide: 'On background, we'll be talking about Joe.'" [Politco, 10/20/08]

2) Joe The Plumber is Getting Too Much Publicity: "Joe didn't ask for Senator Obama to come to his house. And, certainly, Joe didn't ask to be famous." [McCain Campaign Rally, 10/20/08]

3) Sounds like Socialism: "At this morning's rally, the first of three today in this toss-up state, [Palin] continued to call Barack Obama's tax plan socialist again couching it behind Joe the Plumber, "Barack Obama calls it spreading the wealth. Joe Biden calls higher taxes patriotic. Joe the Plumber said it sounded to him like socialism. And now is not the time to experiment with that." [FoxNews.com, 10/20/08]

4) ACORN is Threatening the Fabric of Democracy: The RNC has advised three different conference calls today on ACORN. [RNC Media Advisories]

5) A Foreign Policy Crisis Will Test A President: John McCain: "The next President won't have time to get used to the office. We face many challenges here at home, and many enemies abroad in this dangerous world. Just last night, Senator Biden guaranteed that if Senator Obama is elected, we will have an international crisis to test America's new President. We don't want a President who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars." [Excerpted Remarks for a McCain Campaign Rally, 10/20/08]

6) Blame the Press: Top McCain Aide Mark Salter: "There has been a different standard for Obama than there has been for any candidate running against Barack Obama. And maybe this should have set off more warning bells with me. I think much of the media has a thumb on the scale for Obama. I think the thumb has been there the entire time." [The Atlantic, 10/20/08]

7) Blame the Fundraising: Rick Davis: "There are reports that, just already disclosed, $3 or $4 million of Barack Obama's campaign funds just prior to the $150 million fundraising month were not appropriate. Now, I'd love to have that $4 million right now to put into Pennsylvania. It'd be a good thing for our campaign. I think it's a game-changer if I can slap all of that right on Philadelphia media market. It's an expensive place. And, yet, Barack Obama gets away with raising illegitimate money and spending it." [10/20/08]

8) Divided Government: John McCain: "He's measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, and concede defeat in Iraq." [McCain Campaign Rally, 10/20/08]

9) Obama's Baseball Loyalty: RNC Press Release: "After repeatedly saying he would root for the Phillies in the World Series, Barack Obama switched teams while campaigning in Tampa today." [10/20/08]

10) That Washed Up Old Terrorist: Rick Davis: "John McCain tried to point out how people should be informed about Barack Obama's background, including his relationships with domestic terrorists like William Ayers. People are going to form these judgments. It's great fodder for us to debate every day. I think it's fun." [MSNBC, 10/20/08]

Friday, October 17, 2008

The fraud of voter fraud

Great article by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2202428) about the GOP's new favorite target, ACORN and voter fraud. Republicans have tried to perpetuate the myth of widespread voter fraud. It works for the GOP in a number of ways. First, it gives a ready excuse for any poor electoral result (see 2006). Second, it allows their supporters to feel threatened and attacked, therefore solidifying their support against a common enemy. Third, it allows the GOP to portray their opponents as inherently corrupt and illegitimate - a neat trick after the Florida GOP's performance in 2000.

But, as the article points out, the allegations have absolutely no basis in truth. The US Attorney purge by Alberto Gonzales (which appears to be the only Bush scandal that actually has some legs) was in large part because US Attorneys refused to file voter fraud charges they couldn't prove. They couldn't prove it because it wasn't happening, but the GOP needed the narrative of voter fraud to justify their losses in 2006. Therefore, the solution was to get rid of the US Attorneys who weren't willing to play political ball and file those baseless charges for the GOP's political advantage.

Yeah, it's that sleazy. But it's pretty tough for that issue to gain traction because it takes more than 15 seconds to explain, which is too much for most news outlets to deliver and more than most news consumers are willing to invest. Proof once again, though, that Stephen Colbert was right and the facts DO have a liberal bias.

------

Nuts About ACORN
Believing in vote fraud may be dangerous to a democracy's health.
By Dahlia Lithwick
Posted Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008, at 7:16 PM ET
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Last night's presidential debate didn't rise to full-frontal bodice-ripper status until John McCain insisted, "[W]e need to know the full extent of Sen. Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." Obama probably shouldn't have guffawed. But it was hard not to. He was probably thinking, "Destroying the fabric of democracy???" Even for McCain that was a little bit of breathless chest-heaving.

As far as "gotcha" stunts go, the right-wing feeding frenzy over the vile vote-fraud treachery of ACORN has yet to yield much fruit. Investigations are indeed under way. But then, they are always under way this time of the year—and as the indefatigable Brad Friedman points out, so what? Evidence of voter-registration wrongdoing is no more a sign of widespread, Obama-sanctioned vote fraud than evidence of minorities being misled and intimidated on Election Day is a sign of official, McCain-sanctioned vote suppression. What's the real point of turning voter-registration shenanigans into "one of the greatest frauds in voter history"? The object here is not criminal indictments. It's to undermine voter confidence in the elections system as a whole. John McCain wants to build a better bogeyman, and he needs your help to do it.

ACORN stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. It's a 30-year-old nonprofit that organizes on behalf of poor urban minorities, and it has registered 1.3 million new voters this year. There's no denying that the organization's system of paying workers $8 an hour to gather voter registrations creates screwy incentives. Encyclopedia Brown could have cracked that mystery. That's why ACORN is either obligated by law or opts voluntarily to turn over all its voter-registration cards suggesting that Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the entire starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys just registered to vote in Nevada. That GOP elections officials started screaming "gotcha" when those registrations were turned in is the real fraud here. Jump back, Encyclopedia Brown! There is wrongdoing afoot in low-paying voter-registrationland.

Last week, media attention focused on a "raid" on ACORN offices in Las Vegas in which voter registration documents that had mostly been voluntarily turned over were dramatically seized by force. Right-wing screeching over nefarious doings in Ohio (where Freddie Johnson of Cleveland testified that ACORN encouraged him to sign 73 voter-registration forms—all in his own name) overlooks the fact that all 73 registrations would still have allowed Freddie to vote just once. The connection between wrongful voter registration and actual polling-place vote fraud is the stuff of GOP mythology. As Rick Hasen has demonstrated, here at Slate and elsewhere, even if Mr. Mouse is registered to vote, he still needs to show up at his polling place, provide a fake ID, and risk a felony conviction to do so.

Large-scale, coordinated vote stealing doesn't happen. The incentives—unlike the incentives for registration fraud—just aren't there. In an interview this week with Salon, Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College, who has studied vote fraud systematically, noted that "between 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty others were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five were guilty of voting more than once. That's 26 criminal voters." Twenty-six criminal voters despite the fact that U.S. attorneys, like David Iglesias in New Mexico, were fired for searching high and low for vote-fraud cases to prosecute and coming up empty. Twenty-six criminal voters despite the fact that five days before the 2006 election, then-interim U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman exuberantly (and futilely) indicted four ACORN workers, even when Justice Department policy barred such prosecutions in the days before elections. RNC General Counsel Sean Cairncross has said he is unaware of a single improper vote cast because of bad cards submitted in the course of a voter-registration effort. Republican campaign consultant Royal Masset says, "[I]n-person voter fraud is nonexistent. It doesn't happen, and ... makes no sense because who's going to take the risk of going to jail on something so blatant that maybe changes one vote?"

There is no such thing as vote fraud. The think tank created to peddle the epidemic has evaporated. A handful of cases have been prosecuted. Then why is Sarah Palin shooting off e-mails contending that "we can't allow leftist groups like ACORN to steal this election?" Why is former Sen. John Danforth announcing, all statesmanlike, that the whole 2008 election "has been tainted?" Why is Ted Olson, the Republican National Lawyers Association lawyer of the year, claiming that "[ACORN] acknowledged having to get rid of a thousand people or more who were participating in voter fraud efforts." These people know the difference between registration fraud and vote fraud. Why continue to suggest they are the same thing?

Consider the fact that, as the Brennan Center reported recently, "[E]lection officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation." Consider the recent New York Times review of state records and Social Security records, which concluded that "[t]ens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law." Consider the case, now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, in which 200,000 new Ohio voters stand to be bounced off the rolls because, through no fault of their own, their names don't match error-riddled state databases. Consider the indictment this week of former Republican official James Tobin for his 2002 role in jamming Democratic get-out-the-vote calls. Consider the much-ballyhooed Republican challenge to the eligibility of 6,000 Native American and student voters in Montana that backfired first in court, then with the abrupt resignation this week of the official who spearheaded the effort.

Nobody is suggesting the Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts are perfect. But the suggestion that Barack Obama, through ACORN, is systematically working to get Huey, Dewey, and Louie to steal elections, and that therefore minorities and people of color should be disenfranchised, is cynical beyond belief. Consider the fliers and robo-calls designed to spread false information and threats to Hispanic and African-American voters. (According to the Philadelphia Daily News, fliers in minority neighborhoods warned residents that undercover cops would be lurking around the polls on Election Day, arresting anyone with "outstanding arrest warrants or who have unpaid traffic tickets.") There is wholly implausible vote stealing, and then there is the vote stealing that actually happens. You want to get all crazy-paranoid? I'd worry more about the people who want to rough up their fellow citizen at the polls than people who want to risk jail time for voting twice.

In the end, all roads lead back to John Paul Stevens. He wrote the plurality opinion in last term's Crawford v. Marion County, which upheld Indiana's restrictive voter-ID law. Stevens understood that there is no such thing as polling-place vote fraud, conceding that "[t]he record contains no evidence of any such fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history." But, continued Stevens, in the manner of someone rationally discussing the likelihood of UFO sightings, "flagrant examples of such fraud in other parts of the country have been documented throughout this nation's history." Like, um, an 1868 mayoral election in New York City, he notes, and a single 2004 incident from Washington. Stevens was more worried about shaky "voter confidence" in elections than actual voting. The message that went out from on high was clear: undermine voter confidence. Even if it's irrational and hysterical and tinged with the worst kinds of racism, keep telling the voters the system is busted.

Each time they spread the word that Democrats (especially poor and minority Democrats) are poised to steal an election, John McCain and his overheated friends deliberately undermine voter confidence. That is the point. It encourages citizens to accede to ever-harsher voter-verification laws—even if they are not needed. It musters support for voter purges that are increasingly draconian. Insist often enough that the other side is cheating, and you may even encourage partisans to take matters into their own hands, leading to the worst forms of polling-place vigilantism—from a cross burning in Louisiana on the eve of a 2006 mayoral election to the hiring of intimidating partisan "poll watchers" to volunteer at inner-city polling places. When McCain goes after ACORN, he's really just asking you to join him in believing that the system is broken. And if you choose to overheat along with McCain, the Supreme Court promises to sign off on any measure that might calm you down later. John McCain might want to be a little more careful about accusing Obama, ACORN, or anyone else, of "destroying the fabric of democracy." In so doing, he's either deliberately or unconsciously encouraging his own supporters to grab a handful of the stuff and start ripping.

Dahlia Lithwick is a Slate senior editor.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

100 percent, absolute truth

That's what John McCain claims he says, all the time. Of course, that isn't 100 percent, absolute truth - as this quickly turns into a logic exam. Great article by Alexander Burnes of politico.com (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1008/14208.html) detailing ten of the most egregious less-than-100 percent truth McCain has told in this campaign.

Now, there's an argument to be made that the truth doesn't matter - and McCain is certainly putting that to the test. The results of this election will be an interesting referendum on the value of truth, or lack thereof:

------


John McCain told the Des Moines Register this week that he always tells "100 percent absolute truth," even in campaign ads. There's one big problem with that bold statement: it's just not true.

McCain has made a number of statements — in paid ads and on the campaign trail — that simply cannot be described as 100 percent accurate. Some aren't even close.

Barack Obama is guilty, too. He falsely accused McCain of wanting to slice Social Security benefits in half and grossly exaggerated his role in writing this year's economic stimulus plan. He also promised to accept public financing — and then proceeded to opt out when it was clear he could raise more money on his own.

But only McCain made this dare: Prove it, he told the Register. The paper did not — Politico will.

With the help of the truth-squad crew over at the invaluable Politifact and factcheck.org, as well as other fact-checking websites, here is a list of some of McCain's biggest whoppers:

1. On "The View," McCain claimed Sarah Palin did not take or request earmarks as governor of Alaska. "Not as governor, she didn't," McCain said. But in her first year in office, she requested $256 million in earmarks from the federal government.

2. Shortly after announcing Sarah Palin as his running mate, the McCain campaign ran an ad claiming, "She stopped the bridge to nowhere" — perhaps the most thoroughly debunked claim about the Alaska governor, who supported the bridge project before changing her position late in the game. Asked about the bridge during her 2006 gubernatorial bid, Palin replied: "I'm not going to stand in the way of progress."

3. At the Republican National Convention, McCain claimed Obama's national health insurance plan would "force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages and force families into a government-run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor." But according to factcheck.org, Obama's plan does not place burdens on small business, and people would have the option of keeping their existing insurance plans.

4. In a campaign ad, "Dome," McCain claimed Obama's election would result in "painful income taxes, skyrocketing taxes on life savings, electricity and home heating oil," the clear implication being that Obama wants to hike these tax rates. But factcheck.org says Obama hasn't proposed a tax on electricity or home heating oil and wouldn't raise taxes on investments for individuals earning less than $200,000 a year.

It's possible Obama's election would result in these tax rates increasing. But this McCain-Palin claim is a little like the Obama camp's misleading attack on McCain's Social Security plan, tagging his opponent with the most undesirable, unintended and far from certain consequences of his policy proposals.

5. McCain has repeatedly accused Obama of supporting higher taxes on people making as little as $42,000 a year. "Two times, on March 14, 2008 and June 4, 2008, in the Democratic budget resolution, he voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000 per year," McCain said this week. But this is a misleading claim: Obama's votes were for nonbinding resolutions, which supported allowing certain Bush administration tax cuts to expire but didn't actually have the effect of raising taxes.

6. In a July visit to Colorado, McCain told voters: "I want to look you in the eye: I will not raise your taxes nor support a tax increase. I will not do it." Last Sunday, however, McCain acknowledged to ABC's George Stephanopoulos that his health care plan could lead to some people paying taxes on employer-provided health insurance.

"It depends on what plan they have," McCain said. "But that's usually the wealthiest people."

7. McCain's campaign claimed adviser Rick Davis had taken a leave of absence from his firm, Davis Manafort, and vigorously attacked a New York Times story suggesting that Davis had profited from Davis Manafort's relationship with mortgage lender Freddie Mac. "Mr. Davis has seen no income from Davis Manafort since 2006," wrote McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb, who called the Times story "demonstrably false."

"Mr. Davis has never — never — been a lobbyist for either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac."

But Davis Manafort was receiving $15,000 monthly payments from Freddie Mac as recently as August, and while the payments didn't go to Davis personally he still stands to gain from the success of his firm.

8. McCain has boasted of never requesting a single earmark, saying in January: "I have never asked for nor received a single earmark or pork-barrel project for my state." But he has requested federal funding for special projects back home, including $10 million for a center at the University of Arizona, $5 million for a home-state water project and spending authority to purchase land around Arizona's Luke Air Force Base.

Politifact says it's a matter of debate whether these projects constitute pork-barrel spending — but clearly McCain has searched for federal help in his own backyard.

9. In last Friday's debate, McCain accused Obama of "voting to cut off funds for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan." But Obama has consistently voted in favor of war funding bills, including an earlier version of the bill McCain was discussing. The Illinois senator voted against this particular proposal because it did not push the Bush administration toward a timetable for withdrawal. McCain's comment was technically defensible — but rather too sly to be called "absolute truth."

10. In July, McCain accused Obama of skipping his visit to a military hospital in Germany because he was told he couldn't bring reporters and video cameras. McCain ran an ad saying: "Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." But when pressed to provide evidence that Obama had canceled the visit for this reason, McCain's campaign could not support their claim — and media reports found no evidence that Obama had ever planned to bring media with him.