This nation is facing real challenges on the economy, health care, jobs and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are significant differences between how Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain would address them. But McCain's recent campaign ads suggest the most vital issues are whether Obama wanted to teach sex education to kindergarten children and whether he derided the Republican's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, by talking about lipstick on a pig.
McCain's straight talk has become a toxic mix of lies and double-speak. It is leaving a permanent stain on his reputation for integrity, and it is a short-term strategy that eventually will backfire with the very types of independent-thinking voters that were so attracted to him.
The sex education ad says that Obama supported "comprehensive sex education" for kindergarten children. Graphics then appear with a voice-over saying: "Learning about sex before learning to read?"
The facts: Obama, while a state lawmaker in Illinois, supported a measure to provide older students with age and developmentally appropriate sex education. Younger children, such as those kindergarten-age, would be taught "age-appropriate" things such as how to protect themselves from sexual predators. The legislation was widely backed by the state PTA and the Illinois Public Health Association. Parents could choose to opt out of any instruction for their children.
But in McCain's campaign playbook, this responsible legislation becomes fodder for a grotesque distortion as a way to instill fear in voters.
As to the lipstick-on-a-pig controversy, McCain's campaign has purposely twisted the way Obama used that expression in a recent speech in Virginia. A McCain campaign ad claims that Obama was directing an insult to Palin who, during the Republican National Convention, characterized hockey moms like herself as pit bulls with lipstick.
The truth: Obama used the phrase, which he had used before, to attack McCain's claim that he'll reform Washington while retaining the policies of President Bush. After using the lipstick-on-a-pig phrase, Obama said, "You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."
McCain's faux chivalrous outrage over Obama's purported insult is beneath him. He has been a serious public servant willing to say unpopular truths when he thought it best for the country, but he's more than willing in this election to put his name on campaign lies. The leader who says he would rather lose an election than lose a war now risks losing his reputation in an attempt to win the White House.