Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"A Matter of History"

The campaign press seems awfully fond of gaffes this year.  McCain is confused about Purim; Obama seems to think he is on the Senate Banking Committee; McCain is confused about the breakup of Czechoslovakia.  Oh, and McCain is confused about the nonexistent Iraq/Afghanistan border.

We've chuckled over this stuff, and we will continue to do so, all the while recognizing that we ourselves are prone to misspeaking -- there is one member of our congregation who, after nearly every sermon, makes a point of correcting misquoted song lyrics, verses of poetry, or what have you.   It is irritating beyond words, but it keeps us honest -- which is likely how the candidates feel as well.

For the record, the gaffe-hunters are really using the wrong word.  None of these are "gaffes" according to the standard definition, which is a social error, or faux pas.  Both the press and my little old lady are observing errors of fact, usually minor, made while speaking off the cuff.  The technical word is probably "goofs."  And anybody who speaks off the cuff much is going to make them. 

But the HuffPo's Ilan Goldenberg has observed a rather more serious error of fact in a recent McCain interview.  It goes like this:

Katie Couric asks about Obama's contention that, although the surge has helped, Iraqi security has been improved principally by the Sunni Awakening and government crackdown on the militias.

McCain lashes out, accusing Obama of a "a false depiction" -- what you and I would call a lie. He explains, incorrectly, that the surge was what made the awakening possible.  This, he insists, "is just a matter of history," and to say otherwise is to do a disservice to the dead US troops.

Goldenberg produces ample evidence that McCain is mistaken:  a series of military and press descriptions of the Sunni Awakening that predate the surge.  He concludes:  

... what is most disturbing is that according to McCain's inaccurate version of history, military force came first and solved all of our problems. If that is the lesson he takes from the Anbar Awakening, I am afraid it is the lesson he will apply to every other crisis he faces including, for example, Iran.

This is surely true.  But it is also noteworthy that when faced with his opponent's accurate assessment of the situation, McCain's response is to (a) call the truth a lie; and (b) to offer up his own lie as the truth; and (c) to cloak his lie in the garment of patriotism.  This, we think, speaks very poorly for his character and his judgment -- not to mention his grasp of the facts.

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