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January 29, 2008

Straight Talk, Or Just Business As Usual?

Fact Check has reviewed the last-minute ads from the John McCain campaign in Florida and doesn't much like what it sees. They call the campaign "misleading" and complain that the ads take other points out of context. Mostly, though, they complain that the ads make opinion sound like fact:

On the eve of the crucial Florida GOP primary, John McCain is attacking Mitt Romney with some out-of-context or misleading statements on radio and the Internet:

A Web ad says Romney's health care program in Massachusetts is "not very good" and "is failing." But official figures indicate that roughly 200,000 previously uninsured residents have gained health coverage, and those persons might disagree.

The ad says the Romney plan is costing $400 million more than expected. That's because more people are benefiting than were expected.

A radio ad running in Florida accuses Romney of proposing $20 billion to Detroit "to bail out the auto industry." Romney actually proposed a $16 billion increase in federal research into "energy research, fuel technology, materials science, and automotive technology."

Welcome to the political world, where distortions and context shifts form the bread and butter of advertising. Attempting to separate fact from fiction is why Factcheck exists at all, and it will continue to find fodder for 24/7 work until November. These examples appear to be fairly banal.

First, McCain calls Romney's health-care system a "failure", but it has just started out. As Factcheck itself notes, even the conservative Heritage Foundation seems appreciative of its free-market approach. It has provided about 200,000 people with health insurance coverage who didn't have it in less than a year, and the program still is rolling out. It looks more like a work in progress than a success or failure at this point, and only the candidates themselves appear ready to pronounce it as either.

The cost has risen, as McCain notes. That increase came from the unexpected popularity of the program, which can certainly be a point to either criticize or laud. That seems more solid than Factcheck credits in this instance, but it still begs the question of how McCain -- who has also talked about the uninsured -- plans to handle the issue while keeping costs to a minimum.

On the auto-industry "bailout", the lack of context seems particularly silly. Romney didn't seek to provide corporate welfare, but to focus on energy initiatives that would help the auto industry compete. McCain has talked about doing the same thing, only to solve the supposed anthropogenic global-warming crisis. He spoke about making the US oil independent in five years as well, which will take a lot more than $20 billion in investment to achieve.

All in all, these are great topics for debate, somewhat clumsily and misleadingly presented, but not any way out of the ordinary for a political campaign. At least McCain's focusing on issues, while counterparts in the other party have focused on identity politics. I'll take this debate any day of the week over what the Democrats have.


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