A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Closing Arguments: McCain

McCain and Palin close their campaign with a new set of dubious attacks.


Summary

In the final week, the McCain-Palin campaign unleashed some all-new misleading attacks on Obama: 

  • McCain strained to tie Obama to a Palestinian professor whose views on Israel are quite different from Obama’s.
  • McCain and Palin both distorted a seven-and-a-half-year-old radio interview with Obama concerning the court system and civil rights.
  • McCain and the GOP ran ads claiming Obama’s military budget would mean huge job cuts in Virginia, despite Obama’s proposal to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps – and McCain’s own calls for ending wasteful weapons programs.

Analysis

With just hours remaining before Election Day, both the Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin campaigns are making their final pitch for your votes. Sen. Barack Obama hopes to hold off a late-inning McCain rally by repeating several unlikely promises, which we examine in another article, "Closing Arguments: Obama." Meanwhile, hoping to prove the pollsters wrong, John McCain and Sarah Palin flog some new attempts to cast doubt on Obama’s character; one concerns a seven-year-old interview and another, a five-year-old video.

McCain: The Case of the Palestinian Professor

The latest attempt to prove Obama guilty by distant association with an allegedly questionable character centers on a leading Palestinian scholar, Rashid Khalidi. McCain has accused the Los Angeles Times of withholding a videotape of a 2003 banquet honoring Khalidi at which both Obama and William Ayers were present. The Times wrote about the banquet in an April 2008 story, but says that it can’t publish the tape because "it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it," according to Times editor Russ Stanton.

That pledge to a source hasn’t kept the McCain campaign from attacking the Times. McCain said last week on a Miami radio show that "we should know about their relationship including, apparently, information that is held by the Los Angeles Times. … The Los Angeles Times refuses to make that videotape public." And Palin chimed in at an Ohio rally, "If there’s a Pulitzer prize category for excellence in kowtowing, the L.A. Times wins."

The Times says that its story last April described the banquet in full. The occasion was Khalidi’s impending departure from Chicago to accept a prestigious professorship at Columbia University. Obama spoke warmly of him and his wife, but, in contrast to some of the stridently anti-Israel remarks made by other speakers at the event, "Obama adopted a different tone in his comments and called for finding common ground," the story said. The piece also described Khalidi this way:

Los Angeles Times, April 10: [Khalidi] is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a "war crime" and criticized the conduct of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders. Still, many of Khalidi’s opinions are troubling to pro-Israel activists, such as his defense of Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli occupation and his critique of U.S. policy as biased toward Israel.

Khalidi, according to the story, taught at a university in Beirut in the 1970s, sometimes speaking to reporters on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (though he says he was never part of the PLO) and in the 1990s helped advise the Palestinian delegation during peace talks. 

The Obamas and Khalidis have socialized, and Khalidi hosted a fundraiser for Obama’s failed 2000 run for Congress. Both men taught at the University of Chicago, and they lived near each other in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. 

The relationship between Obama and Khalidi is closer than Obama’s more distant relationship with Ayers. But that doesn’t mean that Obama accepts Khalidi’s strident views about the Middle East. Obama has also forged strong ties with Jewish leaders and advocates for Israel over the years. He says he favors a two-state solution in which Palestinian and Jewish nations would peacefully coexist side-by-side, which is consistent with current U.S. policy, and he calls the militant Palestinian group Hamas a terrorist organization that must recognize Israel’s right to exist and forsake violence before talks with it can begin. On his Web site, Obama states that he and Joe Biden "believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America’s strongest ally in the Middle East."

On the site, Obama also says:

Obama: [Khalidi] is not one of my advisors; he’s not one of my foreign policy people. His kids went to the Lab school where my kids go as well. He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel’s policy. 

McCain hasn’t always been so critical of Khalidi. Since 1993, the GOP candidate has chaired the board of the International Republican Institute, a group that conducts democracy-building activities abroad and is funded by the government and private (mostly corporate) donations. Under McCain’s leadership, the IRI distributed at least one grant, for $448,873 in 1998, to a group Khalidi helped start, the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, according to the IRI’s Form 990.

McCain: Radio Edit
 

Taking a cue from Obama’s brief exchange with Joe the Plumber, the McCain-Palin campaign has spent much of the last two weeks attacking Obama’s "spread the wealth" comment. The attacks intensified last week after The Drudge Report unearthed a 2001 radio interview in which Obama discusses "The Court and Civil Rights." Both McCain and Palin have seriously distorted these comments. (You can read an excerpt of what Obama actually said in the sidebar on the left. A rough transcript is available at Fox News.)

Obama Radio Interview Excerpts (Jan. 18, 2001)

[TET ]

Obama: But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society, and to that extent, as radical as people try to characterize the Warren court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as it has been interpreted. And the Warren court interpreted it in the same way – that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties [that] says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted. And one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still suffer from that.

You know maybe I am showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but you know I am not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know the institution just isn’t structured that way. Just look at very rare examples where during he desegregation era the Court was willing to for example order, you know, changes that cost money to local school districts and the Court was very uncomfortable with it. It was hard to manage. It was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues. [/TET]

On the stump in Ohio, McCain falsely accused Obama of describing a lack of redistribution as tragic:

McCain (Oct. 27): He [Obama] said that quote one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement is that it didn’t bring about a redistribution of wealth in our society.

Not exactly. It’s true that Obama does speak positively of "redistributive change," but he doesn’t describe its absence as a tragedy. In fact, what Obama actually said was that "one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was that the civil rights movement became so court-focused." It is a focus on the courts that Obama says is tragic, not the lack of redistribution of wealth. Had the movement engaged in more traditional politicking and organizing, he said, it might have been able to achieve more on that front.

Palin stretched the truth even further. According to ABC News, Palin told audiences in Pennsylvania:

Palin (Oct. 28): Sen. Obama … described the Court’s refusal to take up the issues of redistribution of wealth as a tragedy. … Let me remind Barack Obama of something else. When judges don’t confiscate your property and your hard-earned – all of your hard-earned money and then re-distribute that, he may call that a tragedy. But I call it fairness and adherence to our U.S. Constitution.

This is wrong on multiple fronts. First, Obama doesn’t say anything at all about judges confiscating either property or money. In fact, Obama says that the Court is "poorly equipped" to carry out any sort of redistribution. Indeed, Palin has Obama’s position exactly backward. Obama told one caller that he was "not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts" because the court system "just wasn’t structured that way." That’s a far cry from finding it "a tragedy."

McCain/RNC: Defense Cuts

A pair of ads from the McCain-Palin campaign and the RNC draw spurious connections between Obama and a false claim that Democrats have a "plan" to cut the military by 25 percent. Both ads are running in Virginia. The most egregious is a radio ad jointly sponsored by the campaign and the RNC. It features retiring Republican Sen. John Warner, who says that Obama’s "liberal colleagues in Congress" have "announced they will cut defense spending by 25 percent." A narrator then informs us that "newspapers" have documented this nefarious "plan" from "Congressional liberals," warning that such cuts "would mean huge job losses right here in Tidewater," and citing unnamed "independent studies" as proof.

(Click to play audio)

[TET ]

McCain-Palin 2008/RNC Radio Ad: "Cuts"

Warner: Hello, this is Senator John Warner.Hampton Roads is home to the world’s largest military facilities.

Barack Obama’s liberal colleagues in Congress announced they will cut defense spending by 25%. Fellow Virginians: cuts in the defense budget will weaken Virginia’s economy and weaken national defense.

John McCain is a true fighter. He’ll champion Tidewater’s leading role in our nation’s defense.

Narrator: Newspapers document Congressional liberals have announced a plan to cut defense spending by 25% after the election. It would mean huge job losses right here in Tidewater. Independent studies prove it will mean fewer jobs. Fewer benefits for more communities in the middle of a recession. That’s the Congressional liberals’ plan if you give them your vote.

Paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee.

McCain: I’m John McCain and I approve this message. [/TET]

The ad’s claims are based on an Oct. 24 editorial in Massachusetts’ South Coast Standard-Times, which reports that Democratic Rep. Barney Frank "called for a 25 percent cut in military spending, saying the Pentagon has to start choosing from its many weapons programs." That may be what Barney Frank is saying for home-state consumption, but it abuses the English language to puff up his comment into a "plan" that "Congressional liberals … announced."

And those "independent studies" mentioned in the radio ad? They appear to consist of a single article in the magazine Virginia Business. The article does address the importance of the military for Virginia’s economy. But it doesn’t say anything at all about how Frank’s proposal would affect jobs in the Tidewater region. In fact, the article appeared nearly two months before Frank made his comments.

Actually, the only cuts Rep. Frank mentioned were in weapons programs and the war in Iraq. Neither would necessarily translate into a "huge" reduction in jobs in the Old Dominion as this ad claims.

[TET ] Republican National Committee Ad: "Military"

Narrator: American safety depends on Virginia. And Virginia’s economy depends on our military. Two hundred and nine-thousand defense-related jobs – more per capita than any other state.

But what would happen if Barack Obama wins? One of Obama’s top allies in Congress has already announced plans to cut our military by 25 percent. 25 percent.

What would that mean for your job?

The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. [/TET]

An RNC television ad echoes some of the same themes as McCain’s radio ad – and makes an explicit and misleading connection to Obama. The TV spot points out that Virginia is home to 209,000 defense-related jobs and asks what will happen if Obama is elected given that one of his "top allies in Congress" plans to cut spending by 25 percent.

But Obama is not planning to cut the size of the military. Just the opposite: He is calling for an increase of 65,000 troops for the Army and another 27,000 for the Marines. Nor is this plan news to the RNC; its own Web site criticizes Obama’s plan to add new troops, saying that it would cost "Approximately $11.04 Billion Per Year," according to the RNC’s estimate.

Neither ad bothers to mention McCain’s own repeated calls for cuts in defense spending. On his Web site McCain pledges to "[r]eform procurement programs and cut wasteful spending in defense and non-defense programs." And, as we have reported before, in July the McCain campaign released a budget plan that, among other things, promised "slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements" and went on to elaborate that "there are lots of procurements – airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System – that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed."

This is just the first-half of our final series on the candidates’ closing arguments. Be sure to check out our companion piece on Barack Obama’s final pitch. 

– by Joe Miller, Viveca Novak and Brooks Jackson 

Sources

Theimer, Sharon. "McCain-Led Group Active Abroad," The Associated Press, 19 Oct. 2007.

Wallsten, Peter. "Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Barack Obama," Los Angeles Times, 10 April 2008.

"McCain Campaign Accuses LA Times of ‘Suppressing’ Obama Video," Los Angeles Times, 29 Oct. 2008.

Diakides, Tasha. "McCain Pushes Obama Connection to Khalidi," CNN politicalticker, CNN.com, 29 Oct. 2008.