Did Not, Did Too, Did Not ...

Washington Matters

Did Not, Did Too, Did Not ...

With John McCain and Barack Obama both promising to run their campaigns on the high road, expect both of them to accuse the other of taking the low road. And when either of the candidates or their campaigns do, skip over the charge of going negative and look carefully at what caused them to complain in the first place. Sometimes the accusation might be fair...but often it will be a way of trying to duck a legitimate jab.

For two candidates running as reformers promising to change the warring atmosphere of the capital, it's only natural and even fair that the way a campaign is conducted will become an important part of the back and forth between now and November. But if Obama and McCain are going to really change the tone in Washington, they need to learn to own up to inconsistencies, gaffes and errors in judgment, not try to hide them or change the conversation by complaining about negative campaigning.

Earlier this month, McCain was asked by a reporter in New Orleans why he twice voted against creating an independent commission to investigate the government's bungling response to Hurricane Katrina. He responded by saying he had "supported every investigation." The Obama campaign and Democrats quickly pointed to two votes where McCain actually had opposed creation of such commissions. The next response from McCain? His campaign issued a statement accusing Obama of "launching the same tired negative attacks that the American people are so sick and tired of."

So what, exactly, is "negative" about challenging an opponent on facts? If they are flat wrong, say so and document it. The problem for McCain is that Obama was right, as documented by the web site FactCheck.org. Is there anything more tired than the same old Washington tactic of blowing smoke to try to hide that you blew it?

Obama reacted in a similar way a few days ago when confronted with a Wall Street Journal story saying Jim Johnson, in charge of vetting potential running mates, had received preferential treatment from a mortgage company. Such questions were "a game that can be played" in campaigns. Well, perhaps. But if you are going to let the guy in question go a day later, as Obama did, perhaps you ought not to start dealing with the matter by questioning the motives of critics.

For candidates promising straight talk, it seems really have been so hard to say things like, "I forgot about those votes" or "I have to know more about the accusations before I say anything." If Obama and McCain keep it up they'll have a pretty difficult time convincing voters that they'll change much of anything. Nothing is more politics than usual than laying blame everywhere but on your own shoulders.

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