Smear or Be Smeared?
February 8, 2008
The DNC plans "unlimited" spending against McCain; some of its claims are misleading.
The Democratic National Committee proposes to spend unlimited amounts of money to "tell the real story" about John McCain before Republicans can "start smearing" the eventual Democratic nominee. But the line of attack the Democrats outline to their potential donors in an e-mail contains some claims that are false or misleading.
According to this fundraising pitch, the DNC plans a massive advertising campaign that will give voters what we judge to be a distorted picture of Arizona Sen. John McCain's positions. The mass e-mail was sent out to the party faithful Feb. 6, the day after McCain emerged from Super Tuesday as the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, and even before former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney suspended his run for the GOP nomination. The subject of the e-mail: "How we'll beat John McCain."
Excerpts, DNC E-mail:Dear ,
"How we'll beat John McCain"
Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are done. John McCain will be the Republican nominee -- he's the only one with a reasonable path to the nomination.
So how do we beat him? We stand up -- right now -- start fighting, and show the American people that he's not who they think he is.
They're just waiting for us to decide so they can start smearing. ... We must be ready to fight back, and fight back hard, today.
... John McCain is a media darling, but don't trust his carefully-crafted image - he's worked for years to brand himself. From Iraq to health care, Social Security to special interest tax cuts to ethics, he's promising nothing more than a third Bush term.
After championing campaign finance reform and ethics legislation to score political points, he now has a staggering amount of lobbyists involved in every aspect of his campaign. In fact, two of the top three sources for John McCain's campaign cash are D.C. lobbying firms, and he looked the other way as Jack Abramoff bought and paid for the Republican Party and the Culture of Corruption.
On immigration reform, he's run as far to the right as he can, aligning himself with the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. On the war, McCain scoffed at Bush's call to leave troops in Iraq for 50 years, saying "Make it a hundred!"
On a woman's right to choose, McCain has vowed to appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
On the economy, one of the issues that the American people care most about, McCain has said: "I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated." We can't afford four more years with a President who drives the economy into the ground. We can't afford four more years with a President who fights an endless war in Iraq. We can't afford four more years with a President who gives tax cuts to companies who ship jobs overseas; with a President who can't get every American the health care they deserve; with a President we just can't trust.
I don't just want to beat John McCain - I want it to be a landslide. ... Only the Democratic Party is legally allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to back our nominee and tell the real story about John McCain. We proved that our strategy worked in 2006, and it will work again this fall. ... Let's get going,
A 100-Year War?
Closer to the Mark
The DNC's message portrays McCain as bent on fighting an "endless" war in Iraq.
DNC: We can't afford four more years with a President who fights an endless war in Iraq. ... On the war, McCain scoffed at Bush's call to leave troops in Iraq for 50 years, saying "Make it a hundred!"The truth is that McCain, as chairman of the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee, vigorously pursued an investigation into how tribes had been fleeced by the mostly Republican lobbyists they hired to back their casino ventures. Federal prosecutors later sent a number of players in the scandal to prison, including lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. The scandal also entangled and contributed to the downfall of ex-Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the former Republican majority leader, who once described Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends." It also contributed to the defeats of Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana and eight-term Republican Rep. Richard Pombo of California. Even McCain's critics admit he kept pressure on the Bush Justice Department while it investigated Abramoff. To say that he "looked the other way" is false.
The DNC and others point to a news item from 2005 in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, which said McCain assured colleagues that his investigation wasn't aimed at them. According to the report, McCain said at the weekly lunch of the GOP's Steering Committee, "It's not our responsibility in any way to involve ourselves in the ethics process [of senators]. ... That was not the responsibility of the Indian Affairs Committee." But that should come as no surprise; investigating possible misconduct by senators is the job of the Senate Ethics Committee (spelled out on page 12 of the Senate Ethics Manual).
Furthermore, the Ethics Committee publicly declined in 2006 to investigate the Abramoff affair, because the Justice Department was already conducting criminal investigations and had told the committee that a parallel Senate probe could interfere. Even the Ethics Committee's Democratic vice chairman, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, concurred in that decision. We fail to see how the DNC can with any honesty criticize McCain for failing to do the job of another committee, especially when that panel's leading Democrat feared that a congressional investigation might jeopardize possible criminal cases.
The DNC's Glass House
The DNC also throws some stones at McCain that could be hurled at their own leading candidates.
The DNC is closer to the mark on some other matters. Briefly:
More to Come–by Brooks Jackson
The DNC is perfectly accurate when it notes that its rival, the Republican National Committee, is also laying plans to attack Clinton or Obama as soon as either of them sews up the Democratic nomination. We have no reason to think that the RNC's attacks will be any more accurate than the DNC's. In the 2004 campaign, both parties ran misleading ads against the other's nominee. In the 2006 congressional elections, we noted that the Democratic and Republican committees responsible for House campaigns both had become "factories for attack ads," and that the National Republican Congressional Committee in particular was responsible for "mudslinging on an industrial scale." We hope for better this year, but this DNC e-mail gives us little reason to expect it.
Public Citizen. "Number of Lobbyist-Fundraisers for Presidential Candidates Already Exceeds 2004 Totals," 29 Jan. 2008.
Smith, R. Jeffrey. "The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail: Nonprofit Group Linked to Lawmaker Was Funded Mostly by Clients of Lobbyist." The Washington Post, 31 Dec. 2005.
Weisman, Jonathan and Chris Cillizza. "DeLay to Resign From Congress; Associates Say Reelection Fears, Not Criminal Probe, Led to Republican's Decision." The Washington Post, 4 April 2006.
Kane, Paul. "McCain Won’t Target Members." Roll Call, 10 Mar. 2005. (Subscription required)
Select Committee on Ethics, United States Senate. "Senate Ethics Manual; Jurisdiction of the Committee," 2003; 12.
Select Committee on Ethics, United States Senate. letter from chairman George Voinovich and vice-chairman Tim Johnson to Fred Wertheimer, 17 Feb. 2006.
"GOP Rep. Pombo Loses to Little-Known Democrat; Doolittle Wins." The Associated Press, 8 Nov. 2006.
John McCain 2008 "On the Issues: Overturning Roe v. Wade," Web site accessed 7 Feb. 2008.
CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate transcript. CNN.com, 28 Nov. 2007.
"Transcript of Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley." Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2008.
Pulliam, Jason. "Tancredo drops out, endorses Romney." Des Moines Register, 20 Dec. 2007.
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