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Posted at 11:35 AM ET, 09/29/2008

The Art of Meaningless Spin

By Michael Dobbs


First Presidential Debate, Oxford, Mississippi.

"Through 90 minutes of debate, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he had nothing to say about you. He didn't even say the word 'middle class.' He didn't say the word 'working people.'"
--Barack Obama, Rally in Greensboro, NC, September 27, 2008.

"While American troops are battling terror on two fronts, Barack Obama failed to utter the word 'victory' a single time during last night's debate on foreign policy - and that's failing the 'commander-in-chief test' by any standard."
--McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, September 27, 2008.

Sometimes a fact can be factual, but signify nothing, or very little. This is often the case with post-debate spin, when each side tries desperately to grope for any advantage. It is true that John McCain never mentioned the phrase "middle class" during Friday night's presidential debate, and Obama did not use the term "victory." But so what?

The Facts

A search of the transcript of the debate from Oxford, Mississippi, shows that McCain used the word "victory" twice in referring to his hopes for Iraq. Obama, by contrast, avoided use of the word.

As General David Petraeus has pointed out, "victory" is not a particularly useful word in referring to a relatively good outcome in Iraq. In an interview with the BBC prior to leaving Iraq, the former commander-in-chief of multi-national forces in Iraq said that he would never declare victory in that country. "This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade... it's not war with a simple slogan."

The debate transcript shows that Obama used the term "middle class" three times in 90 minutes, compared to zero times for McCain. The Obama camp devoted its first post-debate ad to the middle class rhetoric gap. In contrast to his rival, Obama also worked in a single reference to "working families."

What does that prove? Just that Obama was well primed during the debate prep to use buzzwords like "middle class" and "working families" in his answers. As a practical matter, both candidates went to some length to argue that their policies would be better for the middle class, with McCain contending that Obama has voted to raise taxes for anyone earning more than $42,000 a year. (McCain was referring, somewhat misleadingly, to a non-binding budget resolution that envisages the Bush tax cuts expiring, as scheduled, in 2011.)

McCain may not have used the phrase "middle class," but he did talk about ordinary folks, as in this passage about the consequences of not implementing a Wall Street bailout: "We're not talking about failure of institutions on Wall Street. We're talking about failures on Main Street, and people who will lose their jobs, and their credits, and their homes, if we don't fix the greatest fiscal crisis, probably in -- certainly in our time."

The Pinocchio Test

Post-debate spin is, almost by definition, an exercise in exaggeration. As they head into the final stretch of the campaign, both candidates have mastered the art of misleading the voters while sticking ostensibly to the facts.


(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | September 29, 2008; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  1 Pinocchio, Barack Obama, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch  
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Next: The Great Bracelet Debate

Comments

There's spin...and there's impulsive spin:

From:
Head of State
http://headofstate.blogspot.com/2008/09/impulsively-unreflective-duo-incrisis.html

Monday, September 29, 2008
The Impulsively Unreflective Duo In..."Crisis on Wall Street!"

The Impulsively Unreflective Duo In:

Crisis on Wall Street!

John McCain is leaning back in a chair in his office in the Fortress of Irritability. An aide is carrying in a map of Spain when the Macphone rings.

McCain (answering): Fire Cox! Send him to Yugoslavia! Hello?

Hank Paulson (on other end of line): John, it's Hank. We are here in the Capitol. Every financial expert is assembled here, John. We have consulted every master, conferred with the widest and most informed authorities, asked every adept. We need you, John, you, with your mastery of financial expertise, to arrive at the door of our ineptitude and help us find an answer.

John, you must...suspend the campaign.

McCain: Suspend the campaign? But...the people need need my expert advice here, Hank. (Aide is unfolding the map on a table, circling Spain in red, and writing in large bold letters "Not Czechoslovakia"). They need me here. Where my acts can matter most. In...In...(pauses)

Aide: The Fortress, Sir.

McCain: The Fortress, Hank. I can't just sit up and say "I suspend my campaign." That would look to anyone like the most clear act of political pandering, why, it's just...just...

The "I" on his chest lights up and begins to blink.

McCain: I'll do it!

Hank: That's wonderful, John. We'll see you...

McCain: (Standing up, cape waving behind him) In a moment!

Aide: (to McCain): But who will man the fortress?

McCain walks to secret bookshelf. Removes book entitled "Courage". The bookshelf magically spins, revealing a grey vault. McCain turns the combination lock.

McCain: 21...72...23...skidoo...Drat! (starting again) 21...90...I'm sure that I disagreed with President Bush a lot of the time, Senator Obama! (pauses).

Aide: Let me help you with that, Sir (quickly turns the lock left, right and left. The door of the vault slowly opens, with the sound of a vacuum seal.

This reveals a large auditorium, filled with advisers, cameras, and teleprompters. Over loudspeakers, a voice is filling the hall with sound: "The capital of Iraq is...Baghdad. Bagh...dad. The capital of Iran is..."

On the stage is Sarah Palin. She is holding a college text entitled "World Geography".

Palin: Ooooh. I know this one.

An adviser is standing to her right.

Adviser: Take your time, Sarah. Remember--think before you talk.

Palin: I know, I know. Can't I just say "A place that is deserving of our freedoms"?

Adviser: We've been over this before, Sarah. Remember--"Specific is terrific!"

Palin: Specific is terrific. Specific is terrific.

She shuffles her index cards and the loudspeakers intone..."The capital of Iran is...Tehran. Teh...ran."

Palin: Oooooh. They sound so much the same! Iran, Tehran. That's why I can't remember!

As McCain, hands on hips, cape waving, enters the auditorium.

McCain: Sarah.

Palin: Mr. McCain!

Both of their "I"s blink briefly.

McCain: Sarah, I want you to watch the Fortress until I return. I have a very important mission. About Wall Street.

Palin (to adviser): But I thought Mr. Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev to 'tear down that wall!'

Adviser slowly shakes head.

Palin: But...can't I come on this mission, Mr. McCain? Please? I just know I could help!

McCain: Well, I think that a largely unprepared economic novice, struggling to comprehend concepts that are confounding the most experienced and educated authorities in the area...

Both McCain's and Palin's "I"s blink brightly.

McCain: ...Is just what this market needs! Let's go, Sarah! To the rescue!

Sarah: To the rescue, Mr. McCain!

NEXT EPISODE: The Evil Katie-Woman endangers Palin with a hypnotic confusion device...Questions! Can Sarah resist their terrible power?

Coming this week! On...

The Impulsively Unreflective Duo!

Cite:
Head of State
http://headofstate.blogspot.com/2008/09/impulsively-unreflective-duo-incrisis.html

Posted by: Marie Stewart | September 29, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Victory is not an apt word to describe the exit strategy for Iraq, in fact that would be an insult to the Iraqi people.

The United States in essence illegally invaded their country on the pretense they had WMD's which we know was not the case.

Make the best of a bad situation, and exit graciously.

Posted by: Larry the cable guy | September 29, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Iraq is not the best place to get a flat-out victory if not even a professional general thinks so. But the fact is that Americans need a win! McCain knows this. So that's why we should find another war, one that will give us that "USA! USA!" victory parade. How about, say, Costa Rica?

Posted by: Bob | September 29, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

What does this have to do with "fact checking"?

Posted by: zukermand | September 29, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin just lied. She said of Joe Biden, "I've been hearing about his Senate speeches since I was in, like, the second grade."

Please. She's full of crap. That one should get 4 pinnocchios for sheer bald faced stupidity.

Posted by: zukermand | September 29, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Is it only me that noticed? John McCain mentioned, during the debate with Barack Obama, that during his travels in Georgia he saw a large picture of Vladimir Putin. My guess is that it was an attempt to reinforce his position on Russian aggression. If he knew anything about that region he would realize that a vast number of Ossetians are Russian and in fact want to be part of Russia. I hardly think the picture was put there by KGB operatives, perhaps it was placed there by groups once again wanting to be part of Russia. Dropping a few difficult to pronounce names does not make one an expert on a region. Senator McCain is the one that 'does not get it' and is obviously out of touch with reality.

Posted by: dem4ever | September 29, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

"Barack Obama failed to utter the word 'victory' a single time "
~~~~~~
probably has something to do with the fact that we are still in Iraq and our troops are still dying in Iraq and the American people aren't feeling very victorious about it.

Posted by: cb11 | September 29, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

McPalin and Cain talk about "victory in Iraq" constantly and say things like "vote for me and we will WIN the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan"... --The republican/Bush party line continues.

They say what they think people want to hear, making fools of themselves (because we know they know the real situation) while attempting, bizarrely, to make idiot voters of us, who, because of the explosion of ways to gather information these days, know far more than they are giving us credit for.

Kudos to Fact Checker for mentioning the BBC interview with Patreaus. I was pleased by the headline ("no victory in Iraq, says Patreaus") when I saw it on the BBC news site (not as a put down but because it is the truth), but I was astonished that no other American news service, online or off, covered it (at least as far as I could tell after searching for a couple of days). Again, well said, and it's about time, TFC.

McCain and Co. are trying to snow us, and dangerously. This is only one example. Been there before with Bush and Co. twice. Ain't goin' there again.

Posted by: old_hippie | September 29, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Pelosi derails house vote on emergency economic package to stimulate support for Obama. In a scathing partisan speech on the floor of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi laid the blame of the entire economic problems at the feet of President Bush and the Republican Party. All the while, Republican leaders urged all members to refrain from partisan rhetoric for the good of the country. Obama, not committing to the package called a few Democrat’s allegedly to urge them to support the “bailout” package. Reviewing the actions of the day, many conclude that Obama did not want the bill to pass because increased fear is pushing polls in favor of Obama. Pelosi, who until her speech, urged bipartisan support while at the same time calling Republicans unpatriotic. Failure of the bill sends ripples of failure throughout the world’s markets.

News reports indicate that other world markets have dropped 10% in value before opening at the news of the failure. This would represent the greatest loss in history. In the U.S. the DOW dropped 777 points, the single largest point drop in history. Sen. John McCain called for calm and encouraged congress to work together for the good of America. Obama remains by the phone in case he is needed, while gleeful that he is one step closer to becoming president. The burning question of the day is will you vote for a person who roles up his sleeves and tries to solve the problem (John McCain) or someone (Obama) waiting for a 3:00 A.M. phone call to solve the financial crisis.

Posted by: Dr Jack | September 29, 2008 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Pelosi derails house vote on emergency economic package to stimulate support for Obama. In a scathing partisan speech on the floor of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi laid the blame of the entire economic problems at the feet of President Bush and the Republican Party. All the while, Republican leaders urged all members to refrain from partisan rhetoric for the good of the country. Obama, not committing to the package called a few Democrat’s allegedly to urge them to support the “bailout” package. Reviewing the actions of the day, many conclude that Obama did not want the bill to pass because increased fear is pushing polls in favor of Obama. Pelosi, who until her speech, urged bipartisan support while at the same time calling Republicans unpatriotic. Failure of the bill sends ripples of failure throughout the world’s markets.

News reports indicate that other world markets have dropped 10% in value before opening at the news of the failure. This would represent the greatest loss in history. In the U.S. the DOW dropped 777 points, the single largest point drop in history. Sen. John McCain called for calm and encouraged congress to work together for the good of America. Obama remains by the phone in case he is needed, while gleeful that he is one step closer to becoming president. The burning question of the day is will you vote for a person who roles up his sleeves and tries to solve the problem (John McCain) or someone (Obama) waiting for a 3:00 A.M. phone call to solve the financial crisis.

Posted by: Dr Jack | September 29, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Jack

Put the crack pipe down.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 29, 2008 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Dr Jack, you need to get your facts right. Actually it was Obama that appealed for calm. While McCain went for the same old Washington blame game. McCain and Obama should both accept that their influence is limited and put their heads together.

Posted by: M | September 29, 2008 9:33 PM | Report abuse

I am watching that shining advocate of Socialism, Ben Stein -and that towering guru of Laissez Faire deregulated capitalism, Paul Krugman, on Larry King and they were in TOTAL AGREEMENT WITH EACH OTHER!!!

ASTOUNDING!

They both agree yes, the bill stinks -yes it must be passed.

Notable quote from Ben Stein:
"...Fanny and Freddy had nothing to do with this..."

Ole Ben offered no defense of the Republicans when Krugman blaimed them for the bill's failure.

Today, about a Trillion dollers just evaporated. God knows what will happen tomorrow. $700 Billion will look like peanuts soon.

Posted by: plaza04433 | September 29, 2008 9:46 PM | Report abuse

plaza04433, if you think that's astounding then have a look at this--the current financial crisis has been looming for months and while other governments, like the Australian govt. was busy preparing it's people for financial trouble by offerign free financial advice from experts etc, Bush was busy spreading a little more Hate in the world and then when the market finally hit the bottom of the pit he decided to go public and tell American that the economy is in trouble...with all due respect Mr. President, you have made America the a joke on the international platform.

People think that it is wrong for taxpayer's money to be used to save Wall St becuase it's not the capatilist's way to handle financial downturn but its time for those people to wake up. 700 billion is a small price to pay to save the world from economic chaos (if you dont believe me get out your history books and read about the Great Depression)...about 700 billion has already been lost over the past couple of months in America and overseas becuase of Wall Street and if something is not done that more will be lost...WAKE UP AMERICA, it is time for us to act and show the world that we a really committed to making democracy work for the betterment of all people, without resorting to violence

Posted by: Anonymous | September 30, 2008 1:55 AM | Report abuse

MCCAIN WAS THE ONE THAT TRIED TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Pelosi and Obama are part of the problem.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 30, 2008 3:34 AM | Report abuse

MCCAIN WAS THE ONE THAT TRIED TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Pelosi and Obama are part of the problem.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 30, 2008 3:36 AM | Report abuse

MCCAIN WAS THE ONE THAT TRIED TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Pelosi and Obama are part of the problem.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 30, 2008 3:37 AM | Report abuse

McCain tried to solve the problem?...how?...really, you cant make bold statements without backing them with evidence...if he really wanted to solve the problem wouldn't he have read the briefing document instead of turning up unprepared?

Posted by: skoot | September 30, 2008 3:52 AM | Report abuse

Fact Checker says :McCain contending that Obama has voted to raise taxes for anyone earning more than $42,000 a year. (McCain was referring, somewhat misleadingly, to a non-binding budget resolution that envisages the Bush tax cuts expiring, as scheduled, in 2011.)"

I says:

It's a lie... flat out ... a lie ... and yet you won't call McCain on it. Why not?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 30, 2008 6:23 AM | Report abuse

http://4thoffense.com/mc.html

McCain claims to have cosponsored legislation to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac but the Democrat minority "blocked" him.

This is ANOTHER McCain campaign LIE.

John McCain sponsored this bill TEN MONTHS after it died in committee and more a year and a half after it was first submitted. He did NOTHING to revive the bill and is using this as an excuse for his efforts at regulation. This man has no shame.

Check out http://thomas.loc.gov and sarch for the bill S.190 for the 109th congress. There are 3 cosponsors. Two of them were real and one was fake.

COSPONSORS(3)
Sen Dole, Elizabeth [NC] - 1/26/2005
Sen Sununu, John E. [NH] - 1/26/2005
Sen McCain, John [AZ] - 5/25/2006

http://4thoffense.com/mc.html

Posted by: Stop Lying, McCain! | October 1, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

v2vqyn25c4y [URL=http://www.363145.com/646937.html] r7c2zvz893shw8ufs [/URL] 29fw4f0amwe3i

Posted by: 6qycrcebiu | October 1, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

ANOTHER McCain campaign LIE.

http://4thoffense.com/mc.html

McCain claims to have cosponsored legislation to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac but the Democrat minority "blocked" him.

John McCain sponsored this bill TEN MONTHS after it died in committee and more a year and a half after it was first submitted. He did NOTHING to revive the bill and is using this as an excuse for his efforts at regulation. This man has no shame.

Check out http://thomas.loc.gov and sarch for the bill S.190 for the 109th congress. There are 3 cosponsors. Two of them were real and one was fake.

COSPONSORS(3)
Sen Dole, Elizabeth [NC] - 1/26/2005
Sen Sununu, John E. [NH] - 1/26/2005
Sen McCain, John [AZ] - 5/25/2006

http://4thoffense.com/mc.html

Posted by: Stop Lying, McCain! | October 1, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"No victory in Iraq, says Petraeus"

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7610405.stm

both mccain and palin celebrate imminent victory in iraq during this election. to date, no one has called either one on this matter.

Posted by: egalitaire | October 3, 2008 1:07 AM | Report abuse

found this on another comment page.. good for a laugh.

Didn't have any major issues with Palin before last night??? Her VP acceptance speech was very poised but in the debate last night she really seemed to lack a lot of qualities that a national candidate needs to encompass.

Here's a Republican blog that really questions Palin's position on the ticket and suggests that she's hurting McCain.
http://www.greenfaucet.com/blogs/hanlons-pub

Also includes the Katie Couric video about the newspapers Palin reads.

Priceless.

Posted by: j.b.wargo | October 3, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Sarah | October 6, 2008 6:40 AM | Report abuse

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