Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama
(September 2008)

The Scoreboard generally objects to the “a pox on both their houses” attitude among voters. There are always legitimate distinctions to be made, and always one party or candidate who is ethically more deserving of support than the other. That will be true on Election Day, 2008 as well, but this is September, and in September there is little to choose in the matter of honesty between the major presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain. They both have thoroughly disgraced themselves, particularly since one has made “honor” the centerpiece of his quest of the White House, and the other claimed that he would elevate politics above name-calling, gotchas and personal attacks.

Right. McCain’s campaign, as embodied by ads he “approved,” has been dishonorable and dishonest. Obama’s campaign has been mean-spirited and deceitful. They have both violated their earlier promises to do better than the bi-partisan mud-slinging of 2004 and 2000.

They are both, in short, liars.

It is not worth the time or space here to catalogue all of the dishonesty from the two candidates inflicted on America this month. Just log-on to, the superb, virtually non-partisan service of the Annenberg Trust, and read until you become nauseated. If you are one of those myopic partisans of either party who genuinely believes that your candidate is being smeared while uttering only truth and fact in response, take your head out of that cloud of bias, pay attention, and have some integrity and fairness. McCain is not trying to cut Social Security. Obama is not plotting to increase taxes on the majority of Americans. McCain ads say that Obama doesn’t take Iran seriously. A lie. Obama ads say that McCain wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years. A misrepresentation. Both candidates are making unjustified claims about their energy policies. McCain has falsely implied that Obama refused to visit wounded troops if TV cameras couldn’t accompany him. Obama’s ads cynically use the misleading form of verbs to suggest past conduct is present conduct, as in: “John McCain’s advisors lobby Congress for tax breaks for oil companies,” when the true statement would be “Former oil lobbyists now serve as McCain advisors.” They aren’t lobbying for Big Oil now; the phrasing is intentionally misleading, to suggest something that isn’t true.

In other words, a lie.

Whose dishonesty one finds more offensive is a matter of taste and priorities. I found Obama’s ad portraying McCain as an out-of-touch old man who can’t use a computer truly disgusting, first because it has been well-documented that McCain’s war injuries make using a keyboard painful for him (using a computer is annoying enough when it doesn’t hurt), and because it represented exactly the kind of low blow, appealing to prejudice and bias, that McCain has mostly managed to keep out of his ads, if not off the airwaves. Attacking McCain for his age is courting discrimination that our laws prohibit just as firmly as they reject discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender.

But that’s just one ad. There is little to admire among the candidates in honesty this September, and unless there is lot more Straight Talk and real Change in October, The Ethics Scoreboard has the Liar of the Month category reserved for Mister McCain and Mister Obama in the upcoming month too.

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