John McCain's Negative Campaign
Previously published on August 29, 2008
The Nation had long known Senator John McCain as an honorable politician dedicated to open and honest political discussion. Unfortunately, for the 2008 Campaign, the Republican Nominee has embraced the unhealthy political tactics that Americans have come to expect from most other politicians. In retrospect, the exchange between McCain and George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential Campaign, which was both vicious and disrespectful to the political process, may have been a premonition to his most recent behavior though most Americans absolved McCain as a victim of Carl Rove's tactics. While Barack Obama has mostly avoided negative campaigning, McCain has stumble in the healthy political race he has always strived to take part in.
Though Senator McCain originally focused on legitimate concerns, his campaign has become increasingly petty. At the end of the Democratic primary, McCain targeted his opponent's lack of international exposure as a valid concern. After pushing the Democratic Nominee to visit Iraq, McCain responded by minimizing Obama's trip as a media circus while he bitterly campaigned to far smaller audiences, expecting equal media attention. With Obama demonstrating his diplomatic skills and ability to behave "Presidential," McCain focused on the cancellation of a visit to a veteran's hospital in Germany. The event was cancelled because his campaign aids could not be part of the visit, but McCain latched onto the incident and misrepresented the move as a sign demonstrating the Obama team was only willing to spend time with wounded troops for publicity.
Furthermore, when discussing military policy, McCain points to the success of the military surge in Iraq that Obama did not support. Although security has improved drastically due to the surge as well as the efforts of the Iraqi army, the Sons of Iraq Awakening, and the scattering of the Mahdi Army, McCain fails to discuss the costs of the continuing war. Beyond the breakdown in Afghanistan and continued quantitative costs of the improving failure, which is the Bush Iraq War, nuclear advances in Iran and North Korea, as well as the spread of anti-democratic movements around the world, are heavy costs that continue to mount. Even if Iraq follows McCain's optimistic view for the future, these costs, along with the cost of rebuilding our weakened military, which must respond to emerging threats, represent serious issues that cannot be overlooked. In his campaign, McCain has failed to discuss the full cost of the Iraq War. Instead, he claims Obama is willing to lose Iraq to win Afghanistan, yet he appears to be willing to lose Bush's broader global War on Terror' by exhausting our resources on continuing stay-the-course policies that do not address the underlying political and cultural conflicts in Iraq.
Meanwhile, McCain has skewed the positions of his opponent through various campaign ads making narrow, incomplete claims. For example, a McCain ad states Obama is against off-shore drilling, nuclear power, and prizes for innovations in battery technology. Although Obama has made statements against these policies, he has done so because there are serious shortcomings associated with proposed legislation that must be resolved before a broader energy policy can be created. Democrats are largely against lifting the Congressional moratorium on off-shore drilling because there is evidence suggesting drilling would have no serious impact on crude supply and prices while it would likely cause serious environmental damage. Democrats charge oil companies hold unused drilling leases for 68 million acres of federal land; therefore, an honest debate needs to address the reasons oil companies are not utilizing these leases. Increased costs of exploration, which likely affects off-shore drilling as well, may be one legitimate reason that would hinder drilling in new areas.
Instead of pushing for a meaningful debate on energy, McCain has used the fears of Americans to attack his opponent and suppress a much needed discussion as politicians have done for years. In an another ad, McCain employed suggestive images that insinuate Obama is somehow responsible for high crude prices because he is against lifting the ban on off-shore drilling that the long time national leader had championed. Meanwhile, focusing on supply by destroying protected natural resources adds to already mounting environmental issues, including climate shift. In the short term, the Nation needs Presidential leadership capable of diplomatic efforts aimed at increasing world supply and removing super subsidies in other nations, which will be a tough sell as the US provides subsidies through tax benefits and by failing to collect royalties on American crude, so supply concerns can be elated and global consumers will be pressured to use less oil. Moreover, by short-circuiting the debate on the long and short term solutions for energy, which also include environmental issues, McCain is hurting America.
Minimizing issues to political planks, which do not honestly reflect the complexity of issues, helps polarize voters and impede political discussion. Looking at other economic policies, McCain continually spins shifting tax cuts away from corporations and the wealthy as tax hikes for all Americans. Though the benefits of the "trickle down effect" can be debated, economic evidence suggests cutting corporate taxes has helped create jobs, but there are broader concerns that these tax cuts can exasperate. In a global economy where corporations outsource labor heavily and use profits for global investments while a widening economic gap provides Americans with fewer financial resources to keep the US economy flowing, cutting taxes for international corporations helps push money out of the American economy. Moreover, by simplifying the debate on energy, environment, and the broader economy, McCain facilitates unhealthy political debate that has left key issues unresolved for too many generations.
Furthermore, the Republican Nominee has used media to push a negative and false image of the Democratic Nominee. Although McCain has said he finds Senator Barack Obama to be a remarkable person and respects him as a successful tribute to the America way of life, he has aired ads containing images of Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton, two negative and unbecoming young celebrities, along with pictures of Obama while asking the question of what is wrong with America. Aside from potentially alienating young Americans with such negative stereotyping, the claims are clearly unjust and disrespectful to the name of the Senator. More importantly, such actions hinder the political process with character assassination.
Political campaigns are not supposed to be fair nor are campaigners supposed to leave their opponents' records and stances untouched, but campaigns need to include honest and critical analysis of politicians and their views, so the Nation can choose the best leader. Although dirty, unhealthy politics has long tainted the political process, John McCain has sported himself as a politician who opposes this system of corruption while the Nation finally had two leaders who strived to run honest and respectful campaigns that would allow for critical discussions of complex issues. By mischaracterizing Obama's stances, polarizing issues to divide voters, oversimplifying political issues, and defaming a national leader's character, McCain is behaving dishonorably and impeding the democratic process. He must recognize his failure to uphold his responsibilities as a national leader and apologize to the American people.