Gas Ad Makes Head Hurt

Washington Matters

Gas Ad Makes Head Hurt

OK, we all know that political ads play fast and loose with facts and logic. But do we really want to descend into an Orwellian world where what you stand for depends entirely on convenience -- or on what day of the week it is? John McCain has unleashed an ad that blames the high price for gasoline specifically on Barack Obama for taking the exact position that McCain held until a month ago.

"Gas prices: $4, $5, no end in sight, because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America," the ad narrator intones grimly. While the point is to try to turn the fury that drivers experience every time they fuel up their car toward Obama,  the ad ought to infuriate anyone who thinks brains have a greater purpose than to keep our ears several inches apart. Blaming Obama for high gas prices is as absurd as blaming him for bad tomatoes (or jalepeno peppers) as the folks at Politifact cleverly put it in taking the the ad apart, piece by piece. 

Consider the facts. First, McCain could personally sink an oil well every day between now and the election and there still would be "no end in sight" to stiff gas prices. Second, McCain himself steadfastly opposed offshore drilling until switching positions in June, which in essence means McCain is blaming his own long-held position for the state of energy supplies now. At least Obama can argue that he's only been part of the problem (the lack of a long-term energy policy) for only three years while McCain has been part of it for almost 30 years.

There is nothing wrong with switching positions on an issue. And there is nothing wrong with criticizing an opponent for sticking to that old position. But to try to apply the supposed consequences of a policy decision to that opponent while simultaneously ducking responsibility for those consequences yourself is a logic-defying feat that even the oiliest of politicians should be embarrassed to try. And McCain has made a name and career for being the exact opposite of oily. That's what is especially maddening about this ad: It abandons the principles that have made McCain such an intriguing and unusual politician since his first presidential campaign in 2000 -- tackling difficult problems, not promising quick-fixes and talking straight.

That's also why the ad may turn out to be not just an annoyance and affront to reason, but a potentially costly strategic blunder. The candidate who created a persona and a platform of being anything but an ordinary politician who says anything to get elected just handed his opponent evidence of the opposite. McCain can expect this ad to haunt him for some time to come.