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September 19th, 2008
08:30 AM ET

John McCain and the lying game

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME Columnist

Politics has always been lousy with blather and chicanery. But there are rules and traditions too. In the early weeks of the general-election campaign, a consensus has grown in the political community — a consensus that ranges from practitioners like Karl Rove to commentators like, well, me — that John McCain has allowed his campaign to slip the normal bounds of political propriety.

The situation has gotten so intense that we in the media have slipped our normal rules as well. Usually when a candidate tells something less than the truth, we mince words. We use euphemisms like mendacity and inaccuracy ... or, as the Associated Press put it, "McCain's claims skirt facts."

But increasing numbers of otherwise sober observers, even such august institutions as the New York Times editorial board, are calling John McCain a liar. You might well ask, What has McCain done to deserve this? What unwritten rules did he break? Are his transgressions of degree or of kind?

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Filed under: Joe Klein • John McCain • Raw Politics
soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. Stacy Harris

    I am a US citizen living in Kenya and I cannot begin to tell you how much the McCain team is lying. The things I hear people say about his father and the rest of his family in Kenya are simply not true. Kenya is a christian nation and not muslim. Muslims in Kenya are the minority and they keep to themselves. As a matter of fact, the Kenyan government is very strict on muslims even before 911. I watch cnn daily in Kenya and the lies I see purpotrated about Obama are ridiculous. I feel sorry for McCain because he is doing what he said he would not do and that is stoop to dirty tricks. I actually supported McCain in 2000 when he went against Bush. I admired him at that point, but no more. Stop the madness John McCain and run a descent campaign.

    September 22, 2008 at 8:00 am |
  2. Darian

    Sir,
    Why hasn’t anyone demanded Sen. McCain’s Health Record be exposed? The media should have been all on this. Instead, lip stick on a pig gets more coverage. This is frightening to think that this guy may be assuming one of the most powerful positions in the world, and he is only a heartbeat away from death. Not to mention that the physical health and mental capacity of our country’s leaders are of interest to our enemies. What bothers me is that some White Voters are willing to put McCain in office knowing these concerns exist. As a Black Independent Voter, I actually think that McCain has some good ideas for the country. However, taking his health and his choice for VP in consideration, I believe that if he is elected President and dies in office, he will leave us in a crisis three times as worst as the Bush Administration. McCain’s health is a time bomb waiting to implode (defined: to collapse violent within).
    Signed: Make the choice for the future of our country,

    September 22, 2008 at 7:21 am |
  3. Charlie Indiana

    Cindy, don't take Joe's word for how many untruths are coming from the McCain campaign. Take a look at FactCheck.org, one of many independent sources that holds both sides accountable. Too many of us don't do our homework and simply accept what we are told by professionals who may or may not have a bias.

    September 22, 2008 at 5:17 am |
  4. ali

    I had a great respect for McCaiin until I started seeing how desperate he's to grab the presidency and would say anything to achieve it. It doesn't suite him to lie. If he really means country first then why would he choose an unexperienced running mate. Especially considering his age. There are plenty great experienced women in his party. But again politically it makes sense. So... what is it? Politics first or Country first? I have great faith in American public and hopefully we'll see the truth from these distracting comments and ads. and will elect the right candidate.

    September 22, 2008 at 3:02 am |
  5. concern

    John mccain is at a point where he will say anything just to get in office ...and he should stop blaming ..democrates for this big mess the repubulican have made ...and if the repubulicans do not want regulation ..then they shouldn't want the tax payers help ...it is our money and we will be regualating it ..on wall street to ..because they have shown that they can really get out of control with it ...as for john wanting to give tax breaks to the weathly ..he should really think again ...they really need an incrase now that they are useing tax dollars to help with their mess ...

    September 21, 2008 at 10:08 pm |
  6. Mike

    You call Obama a liar and he'll probably play the "race card".

    September 21, 2008 at 9:55 pm |
  7. john

    I dont know why the media isn't talking about the Obama lies. We can all see what side the media's on. Is America suprised!!!!

    September 21, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  8. Gentile

    Gestapo AM,could not stand McCain,100 days ago.We all know,Obama will not win a single retard,i mean racist,i mean red state.But hey,if the liar's win.Where does John McCain,fit in at.I just don't see him,at all,where i look.But i do see Sarah,and Sarah is a very very important name,and her name,has rights.Rights,to a New Beginning.G 21 1 And the Lord did to Sarah,as he had promised.

    September 21, 2008 at 5:12 pm |
  9. esther in Hawaii

    On CNN today, Palin commented on the energy issues; said that she knows how to fix this problem and high gas prices the problem being that she is from an "energy rich" state. Then....Sarah Palin, why are the gas prices in Alaska over $4.00 a gallon???? You pointed out Obama's shortcomings, look at your own!

    September 21, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  10. Angel, Iraq

    During the primaries, both candidates tried not to go as neagtive as they could be on their opponents because the winner could pick one of them to be vice president. Look to Obama's pick of Biden.

    In the general election, everything goes. Because its one side vs. the other. If Americans firmly believe that they were not going to go negative, then they are blind and dumb and should not vote. Negative far sells anything than positive. If both candidates only talk about the positive things of themselves and what they would do...Americans would change the channel on the tv or not attend events for fear of boredom. Speaking from a personal viewpoint, look at Iraq for case in point. We, the military, have been accomplishing great things but only the negative stories are ever sketch upon peoples' minds. No one cares if attacks are down in a lot of parts of Iraq or the fact that schools are open and kids are going to school free from danger....No..they only care if the military "lit" up a building full of civilians to get a bad guy using them as human shields. That story would make news and people would remeber that. For other viewpoint, ask a third grader after watching Star Wars for the first time on which character pops in ther mind first: Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker....they will most likely say Darth Vader.

    Americans (as a whole) will remember BETTER the negative ads vice the positive ads of either candidate. SO it is safe to assume..that if you are running for office and you want people to pay attention to you...which method would you use.......Negative,baby!!!! I say to both candidates.....keep it negative and go for the throat.....Like All Americans, I loved to watch a great show

    September 21, 2008 at 4:06 pm |
  11. Frank Taylor

    How many times has Sen. John McCain said, "I don't recall"; when asked a question on one of his statements? How many gaffs does he have over important issues; when pressured on important issues?

    He smiles and continues like it was normal, or to cover up the embarrassment. I don’t know about you, but this concerns me. My dad had the same pattern. I didn’t pay much attention about it at first. It was just cute and one of his things. It was more serious than that. It was early onset Alzheimer’s. I have watched Sen. McCain a lot during this campaign, and he makes me uneasy, as he stumbles with his words and get increasingly confused and angry. Am I the only one that is seeing this? Everyone seems to be dancing around the fact the man is getting up there in age. I am more than a little concerned.

    Frank MA

    September 20, 2008 at 12:17 am |
  12. Cheryl Byrne

    With all the financial news being the headlines these past 2 days , and rightly so, My question is, WHY in GODS name isn't someone there looking into the lying behind the scenes about Palins religious ,outageous, devil and witch hunter pastor she gets on stage with at her so called "church"? The man is a complete lunatic, msnbc is just now looking into this and I REALLY think, that talk of witch hunters and speaking in tongues, and pastor "placing his hand "on Palin to be the next VP, would be of interest to MANY viewers!!!!!!!I'm still in shock!!!!!!! We all had to hear about Obamas preacher, who by the way, he disowned, but PALIN is still going and speaking ON stage with this lunatic as recently as JULY!!!!!!PLEASE, someone rescue us from another religious NUT! True Obama supporter!!!! I swear I didnt make this up. Check it, PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 19, 2008 at 11:38 pm |
  13. S. Smith

    Why aren't there more tidbits on the Wall Street Journal editorial today owned by Mr Fox News (Rupert) that slammed John McCaine today. It wasn't pretty and they are a pretty conservative print. Or is it CNN is now leaning right Sen. McCaine is having problems with the initials that belong to various institutions and confusing them all or is this the beginning of dementia.

    September 19, 2008 at 11:34 pm |
  14. Jada

    I'd like to call it what it is. Elections give you the option to choose the lesser of two evils. Neither candidate is immune to the influences of Washington or special interests, regardless of intentions. Somehow, we the people, have allowed our government to morph into something other than what it should be. It would/will take longer than 4 years to rectify this distortion. Oddly enough, I am inspired by the candidates and repulsed by the campaigns. I am amazed by John McCain, and somehow believe that he is a man of honor and principles, however, as the campaign progresses, I find myself disappointed in him. For all his talk of bucking his party's agenda, I feel he has certainly given in to the Republican wheel. The campaign is getting ridiculous (not just dirtier, because that is a given for both sides). They are so thin that it actually terrifies me that they might sway people! The "lipstick on a pig" ad and the "teaching sex education to kindergarteners" ad dumbfound me. To me, these ads diminish the intelligence and integrity of John McCain.

    September 19, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  15. Chris Michigan

    I got to tell you all I'm so tired of McCain and Palin I really cant listen to them any more. I wish they would stick to the issues, Do they not realize the condition our economy is in or do they just not care. I can not believe one word that comes out of their mouths. And now Todd Palin believes he is above the law, and does not have to respect our legal system. I can only hope that the legal system in this country makes Todd Palin and the others come forward to answer questions on this troopergate investigation. Trust me if it were anyone else right now they would be locked up.

    September 19, 2008 at 11:29 pm |
  16. ITsTrue

    McCain in the Sept./Oct. issue of "Contingencies", the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries.

    "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

    I just read the article. SERIOUS blunder!!!

    September 19, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  17. nate

    The NYT has always had a history of supporting far left causes and firing cheap shots at Republican candidates. The NYT has always stretched or distorted John McCain's speeches and positions on issues to spark up controversy to help bolster their far left wing agenda. I have yet to see the NYT rip on Obama. Their stone silence on Obama justifies my point!

    September 19, 2008 at 7:49 pm |
  18. Pat

    I am a Democrat who has flipped to Republican once. So I am open to hear both sides. Mr Good Judgement McCain thought it was "smart" to select a woman that could help HIM win....ok, who's sexist! Then Palin says "Obama should have selected Hillary"...is that reverse sexism?? If a man said Obama should have selected Hillary it would be all in the news. I haven't heard ONE thing from either McCain or Palin that convinces me they can offer change...OH WAIT...they're thieves on top of being liars....that's Obama's campaign.

    Karma is a biatch....just wait.

    Go Obama!

    September 19, 2008 at 7:35 pm |
  19. DFrost

    With McCain/Palin (or as Sarah says, Palin/McCain), you would not have 2 more liars in the White House. You would have 3. Don't forget Todd. He is at the governor's office and attends an unusual amount of her meetings (not public meetings, either). If she cannot tell the truth now, why would she later?

    September 19, 2008 at 7:31 pm |
  20. Kristi in KC missouri

    He will continue to lie because his base is okay with that. At our home computer, we have gotten over a dozen emails that I have found to be completely false on snopes.com . Friends and relative are passing on erronious information . . Claims that Obama is a Muslim, some bogus letter attributed to David Letterman, a 'factual' campaign fraud outing falsely attributed to Maureen Dowd . . it goes on and on. I send them corrections and ask them to pass them on and yet they keep coming. Apparently the Republicans want to win at all costs, truth be damned. Eight years of that is enough for me.

    September 19, 2008 at 7:17 pm |
  21. Angie

    John McCain is the king of lying.. Need Proof.. Check out his tlks on Obama going to increase taxes.. Can it get worse than tht with even an illiterate would understand wht Obama has been saying!!

    Its so true when Obama says I dont think Mccain doesnt care..HE JUS DOESNT GET IT!!

    September 19, 2008 at 7:06 pm |
  22. Uma, Liverpool, UK

    Thank you, Mr Klein –

    John McCain has raised serious questions about whether he has the character to lead the nation. He has defaced his beloved military code of honor. He has run a dirty campaign.

    I have been blogging everywhere I can, that McCain has prostituted his past (as a POW), his principles (against the Christian Right), and his own position (on 'experience'), in his desperation to win this election.

    He has even betrayed the US servicepeople (and ours, and the Coalition's) in Afghanistan, by his slavish devotion to Gen. Petraus, and the War/Occupation of Iraq.

    I fear John McCain knows this is his last chance to be President. His life-story is that of a restless, ruthless, ambitious man. He has changed his skin before. John McCain 2004 would not vote for John McCain 2008. This doesn't seem to bother him. It should bother the public!

    People in the USA have stunningly short political memories. I have observed 10 Presidential Elections, from both inside and outside the USA. This sort of article needs to be written and published as much and as often as possible, not because it's 'Lefty', but because it's true!

    Sincerely,

    Uma Devidatta, MAR
    Social Justice Activist

    September 19, 2008 at 6:53 pm |
  23. Ashley

    McCain is lying a lot in his campaign ad's.

    September 19, 2008 at 6:51 pm |
  24. Bea

    If the media is able to detect lies on both sides why doesn't follow up with direct questions to both sides and ask them why didn't they tell the truth? It's like you hear about the lies but what you don't hear about is the follow done when the lies are exposed.

    September 19, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
  25. jacque

    Just because someone has a negative add does not make him a lier. If the ad is telling the truth about the person even if it is negative then it is the truth. McCain is stupid for his vp pick and he is trying to help the Palins avoid facing their crimes in Alaska. McCain is confused on what is going on in America. He may have served in the military but he is now washed up. McCain is not ready to take over America. McCain has to hide behind Palin and she is nothing but a sneaky lier. McCain needs a new vp and to get his act together or he is going to lose. America is tried of his mistakes and lack of telling America how and what he is going to do. McCain has lied in his ads about Obama. Obama simply told the truth in his ads even if they are viewed negative. When the speakers at the convention made joke and told America nothing people laughed but the mess this country is in is no laughing matter.McCain wants people to believe his whinning like a baby simply because he has nothing else to offer America. The only thing McCain had to offer America was his years in service and he was not the only one in the service. Many men and women have served for their country. McCain has nothing else left to give except lies, deciet and heling the Palins cover up their lies in Alaska. Most people are against Obama simply because he does not look like they want a president to look. Well the world is changing and now we look beyond that backward way of thing. America is looking for someone to get this country back on track and Obama is the man to get us back on track even if he don't look like some people want him to. Look beyond the outside and look on the inside Obama has the qualities that America needs. McCain is washed out.

    September 19, 2008 at 6:19 pm |
  26. Colleen

    Cindy Ga...Can you please specify the long list of Obama lies? I would very much like to make an informed and factual choice when voting, so maybe you can help me out.

    September 19, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  27. jana

    same "OLD" crap.........
    different day

    TRYING LIKE HELL TO MAKE A COMEBACK.

    MCCAIN PALIN A DUO NO GO

    When is mcCain going to talk like a human being withou looking for those cue card?

    September 19, 2008 at 6:03 pm |
  28. Betty, Edmonton Canada

    I don't know why you are all so concerned about McCain...haven't you heard it is now the Palin McCain ticket and he is HER running mate...so it is only a matter of time before she literally stabs him in the back and takes over the campaign. It is her we should all fear.

    September 19, 2008 at 5:56 pm |
  29. Pat

    McCain just blamed Obama for the financial crisis. Can you believe it?

    September 19, 2008 at 5:31 pm |
  30. Jim Dougherty

    Hey, Can you legally REFUSE to comply with a subpeona? Is thats the case??
    Or is refusing a subpeona something that only repulican politico's are allowed to do?
    The Clinton Administration post-poned and prolonged the process before obeying the subpeona, but they still complied with the law, because they aknowledged they were not above the law, but they NEVER flat out refused to comply with the subpeona. divert, maybe, refused, never.
    Here we have a state governor encouraging her family to be noncompliant with the law of her own state.
    God forbid I am ever presented with a subpeona, but if I am, I will simply claim to be a Repulican and then I too will refuse the subpeona.

    September 19, 2008 at 5:30 pm |
  31. GAIL Centre,Al;

    The big liar in this race is Obama. He does not know how to tell the truth., or his hateful wife either. To think of them in the whitehouse makes me sick. I'm sick of them and all the crooks that is around him. The people are not stupid, they can see a man who doesn't know what he is doing. HE can not make a decision, he waits for the other person to lead . America doesn't need anybody to wait for another to lead . WE HAVE TO HAVE EXPERICENCE ARE WE ARE DOOMED. Obama knows nothing about running the government. We have to get rid of all the crooks, and that means Obama too.

    September 19, 2008 at 5:17 pm |
  32. GAIL Centre,Al;

    Can the media just tell the simple truth for once. WE ARE BROKE Obama can not deliver on the promises he's made the people are not stupid. Where will the money for Health Care come from,there is no money, What about schools, what about the infrastruture, what about the economy, what about the war, there is no money, thanks to all the Ceo's and crooks in washington. Congress being the biggest crook of them all. They come out smelling like a rose , Well NO MORE, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. tHE PEOPLE ARE SICK AND TIRED OF THESE CROOKS. And people are even thinking about electing a community organzier for our leader, PLEASE GIVE ME A BREAK . People wake up, IF you want more vote Obama -Biden ticket.

    September 19, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  33. janice Penna

    I am a senior citizen and have voted and participated in every election since i was of age. This is the most disgusting election I have ever witnessed. Because of Obama's race the liberal media is afraid of the facts and the truth. Race is the issue when over 90% of blacks vote for this man, who is only qualified as a gifted speaker. Obama has lied and distorted the facts and has tried to dishonor a great American McCain.
    The Republican party should get tougher with this man who's greatest record was voting "present" over 100 times. He can't possibly deliver all his promises. Wake up America and choose a man who has proven he can lead.
    Obama will say anything to win and flip flops more than anyone.

    September 19, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
  34. GAIL Centre,Al;

    If you like the mess we're in vote for Obama, because your going to get a lot more. Obama is making promises he knows he cannot keep, and now the taxpayers knows he can't keep them because there is no money. These are the types of people[CROOKS] that MCcain and Plain are going to fight. Give me a sassy talking, gun tote'in, moose hunting, jet selling, Hockey mom of five, anytime, over the crooks that run our government.

    OBAMA 111,000 THOUSAND DOLLARS FROM LOBBYLIST
    OBAMA 936 MILLION IN EARMARKS
    THAT'S NOT A VERY GOOD RESUME.

    September 19, 2008 at 4:42 pm |
  35. lampe

    Obama, has been the one doing the most lying. He started with Pres. and Sen. Clinton, having his supporter's and his campaign calling them Racist. So now he's trying to do the same with McCain\Palin. What's really a shame, is the man who Obama picks for his V.P., really knows that Obamas not ready to be POTUS.

    September 19, 2008 at 4:39 pm |
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