Barack Obama would have you believe that John McCain has gone through a sudden and shocking metamorphosis. According to the Illinois Senator, the “once-principled” Republican presidential nominee has by some mysterious alchemy become a pathological liar, a shameless purveyor of “dishonest smears.” This theme has featured prominently in Obama’s recent campaign ads, one of which describes McCain’s campaign as “truly vile,” and it has been dutifully repeated by his surrogates in newspapers, on TV talk shows, and in the left-wing blogosphere.
Obama’s decision to pursue this line of attack demonstrates considerable audacity, of course, but it will probably backfire. First, as Karl Rove recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, the dishonesty charge is “one of the last things the voters will believe about John McCain.” Moreover, just as his comments about Sarah Palin’s lack of experience highlighted the scantiness of his own resume, Obama’s aggressive questioning of McCain’s honor invites examination of his own probity. And the Democrat presidential nominee is no stranger to prevarication. He routinely lies about McCain’s positions on a wide variety of issues, including health care, Social Security, and the mortgage crisis.
Among the most brazen of Obama’s whoppers are those he repeatedly tells about McCain’s health care reform program. Obama has, for example, consistently peddled the claim that McCain wants to impose a stealth tax increase on American workers via their health insurance: “He wants to tax your health benefits. Apparently, Senator McCain doesn’t think it’s enough that your health premiums have doubled, he thinks you should have to pay taxes on them too. That’s a $3.6 trillion tax increase on middle class families.” This is a deliberate distortion of McCain’s proposal to eliminate the perverse tax incentives and inequities associated with our current system of employer-based health insurance, a system that has been decried by health care experts of all political persuasions.
Obama’s misrepresentation of McCain’s health care proposal has been so over the top that even CBS News, an organization not notable for its bias against Democrat presidential candidates, felt compelled to debunk it in a “ Reality Check” segment. In the CBS piece, Wyatt Andrews points out that “the impact on the middle class is exaggerated” by Obama and that “most people will see tax cuts.” McCain would indeed get rid of the tax break employers now receive when they buy insurance on behalf of employees, but would replace it with individual tax credits worth up to $5,000. The plan would thus enable people who purchase insurance in the individual market to get the tax benefits now enjoyed only by those who have employer-based coverage.
Obama’s whoppers are not, of course restricted to health care. He has also misrepresented McCain’s Social Security proposals. According to the New York Times, he recently told an audience of Florida seniors, “If my opponent had his way, the millions of Floridians who rely on it would’ve had their Social Security tied up in the stock market this week….How do you think that would have made folks feel? Millions would’ve watched as the market tumbled and their nest egg disappeared before their eyes.” Thus, the candidate of “change” revived the perennial Democrat campaign tactic of scaring the bejabbers out of the elderly.
Obama’s sleazy fear mongering is not merely ironic, however. As Ruth Marcus put it in another news outlet conspicuously pure of Republican leanings, the Washington Post, “[Obama’s charge] is simply false — even leaving aside the incendiary language about ‘privatizing’ Social Security…the private account plan suggested by President Bush and backed by McCain would not have applied to anyone born before 1950.” In other words, even if the stock market had dropped to zero there would have been no effect whatsoever on the benefits of current retirees. In his zeal to slander McCain, Obama wasn’t content to merely demagogue sensible Social Security reform. He felt the need to tell a transparent lie.
In addition to distorting McCain’s health care and Social Security reform plans, Obama also does considerable violence to the truth when discussing McCain’s positions as they relate to the travails of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Last week, he accused McCain of opposing regulatory oversight of the mortgage industry: “John McCain cannot be trusted to reestablish proper oversight of our financial markets for one simple reason: he has shown time and again that he does not believe in it.” Predictably, he went on to repeat the charge that the former CEO of Fannie Mae is a McCain crony.
The truth is that McCain is the only presidential candidate from either party who called for tighter regulation of the mortgage giants before the current crisis. On May 26, 2006, McCain signed on as a co-sponsor of the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act. This bill, which would have established precisely the kind of oversight that Obama allegedly favors, was eventually killed by the Democrats. His official statement on that occasion shows that he was as prescient about the mortgage crisis as he was about the Iraq surge: “If Congress does not act, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system, and the economy as a whole.”
Obama’s whoppers about McCain’s positions on health care, Social Security, and the mortgage crisis do not by any means exhaust his repertoire of mendacity. He still tells the stretcher about McCain’s willingness to stay in Iraq “for 100 years,” he hasn’t stopped misrepresenting the “$5 million” joke, and he continues to distort McCain’s positions on Afghanistan and immigration. Most ironically, he lambastes the Republican nominee for “lying.” Now that’s true audacity.
David Catron is a health care finance professional who has spent more than twenty years working for and advising hospitals and medical practices. He has an MBA from the University of Georgia and blogs at Health Care BS.