The Bridge to Arrogance

Washington Matters

The Bridge to Arrogance

Campaigning in Lebanon, Ohio, this morning, Gov. Sarah Palin delivered her stock speech -- a shortened version of her convention address that includes a line always greeted with great applause: "When it came to the bridge to nowhere, I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"

The problem, of course, is this is pretty much a lie, debunked by every major news organization. How does the McCain-Palin campaign have the nerve to keep repeating it?

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Something really bad has happened to politics when the facts just don't matter anymore, when a politician thinks he or she can make anything seem true just by repeating it often enough.

The story of the bridge is now pretty well known. Approved by Congress in 2005 at a cost of $223 million, it became the poster child of the campaign against earmarks, led by John McCain and others. The bridge connected the Alaska mainland to Gravina, an island of 50 residents, and was denounced everywhere as an example of all that's wrong with Congress's pork barrel spending.


From the day she was named as McCain's running mate, Palin has highlighted her opposition despite the facts. Palin actually supported the project when she was running for governor and well after her election. Only when the cost of the bridge skyrocketed to almost $400 million and it was clear that Alaska would have to make up the difference did Palin cancel the project.  And then she kept the money intended for the bridge and used it for another project. Palin uses the example to promote herself as a thrifty politician who would reform Washington's pork barreling ways. But as mayor of Wasilla, Palin was a champion of pork, hiring a lobbyist with close Washington ties to win $27 million in pork for her town of 6700 in just one year.

How is it that the McCain-Palin campaign dares to keep repeating the bridge story even after it has been proven false? Does truth no longer matter?

To be sure, the Democrats have pushed falsehoods of their own, most notably the suggestion that McCain would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years. But the Democrats are not nearly as good as the Republicans at playing this game. Consider McCain's contention at every stop that Obama will raise everyone's taxes, which is flat out wrong. And consider how angry the McCain people got -- and how effectively they used it to hogtie the press -- when bloggers circulated "scurrilous" rumors about Palin. Where is the Republican outrage over GOP bloggers who continue to circulate the most fantastical stories about Obama's personal life, the latest charges being that he's connected to the Chicago mob.

This election finds the U.S. at a most difficult time, fighting two ground wars and a war on terror, with a sluggish economy, a huge federal deficit and major housing and credit market problems, to name just a few. We desperately need an honest debate about the issues, not a contest over who can tell the biggest lies and make them stick. Why isn't the public up in arms against this politics as usual -- cynically pursued under the guise of change?