In the political debate on abortion, those who lean toward McCain and/or against Obama place great emphasis on rhetoric. Obamasupports abortion. McCain opposes it. There is often an unwillingness to step beyond the rhetoric to likely policy implications, because Obama’s rhetoric is in itself so pernicious and scandalous. Likewise, we are often told that example matters. Even if Sarah Palin never mentions abortion and has aligned herself with McCain’s awful economic policies, her personal example– choosing to raise a child with Down’s Syndrome– is supposed to set the right example. What she actually stands for seems to take a back seat to this sweeping narrative.
The problem is that people who use these arguments to support McCain and Palin are not consistent. If rhetoric matters, if what you say matters, then how can one account for the widening perception that McCain is running one of the most disreputable campaigns in history, that he is willing to lie his way to the White House? As Michael Kinsley puts it: “He says he’d rather lose the election than lose the war. But it seems he’d rather lose that honor he’s always going on about than lose the election.” Instead of issues, we get trivial diversions, personal smears, and outright lies. And Andrew Sullivan notes that: “when he had the chance to engage in a real and substantive debate against the most talented politician of the next generation in a fall campaign where vital issues are at stake, what did McCain do? He began his general campaign with a series of grotesque, trivial and absurd MTV-style attacks on Obama’s virtues and implied disgusting things about his opponent’s patriotism.” Look, all politicians spin and obfuscate, but McCain is taking this to a whole new level.
McCain is doing this because he knows he can get away with it. He knows the media will always latch onto a need for balance, no matter how far-fetched. And it works. As McCain keeps lying that Obama will tax ordinary people (while in fact he will deliver them a cut while McCain offers nothing) more than half of the people think that Obama will raise their taxes. McCain knows what he is doing. He is exploiting a weak and cynical media, and buying into a form of moral relativism which blurs the boundary between truth and falsehood. So yes, rhetoric and example do matter. Should not McCain he held accountable for his egregious violations of the eight commandment? Don’t we, as Catholics, have a primary duty to stand up for the truth?