A Stunningly Dishonest Campaign Ad

Here is John McCain’s campaign ad accusing Barack Obama of blowing off wounded American troops in Germany so he could go to the gym:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49hC9TpP_rY[/youtube]

As I have blogged at Comments from Left Field, this accusation, which has been picked up and bounced around by right-wing bloggers ad nauseum, is completely non-factual. All the wingnuts have been doing here is draw the most uncharitable conclusions about events based on their biased ideas of what those events “might” mean, what it “looks like” Obama was doing or not doing, what “appears” to be the explanation, while being unable to present a single solid, confirmed FACT to back up their accusations.

Sen. Obama has provided an entirely reasonable explanation for what happened:

The campaign had initially said that Sen. Obama had said he thought it might be inappropriate to visit the troops since the campaign was funding his European swing.

Then after reports that the Pentagon had expressed concerns to the Obama campaign about the political aspect to the visit, the Obama campaign issued a statement from Maj Gen. Scott Gration (Ret.), a foreign policy adviser to Obama, saying that the Pentagon told him the visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center would be viewed as “a campaign event.”

“Senator Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event when his visit was to show his appreciation for our troops and decided instead not to go,” Gration said.

But the Pentagon said that wasn’t true, that Obama was more than welcome to come, it was just that he couldn’t bring the media or campaign staff.

So here’s what Obama said about it all:

“The staff was working this so I don’t know each and every detail but here is what I understand happened,” Obama said. “We had scheduled to go, we had no problem at all in leaving, we always leave press and staff off — that is why we left it off the schedule. We were treating it in the same way we treat a visit to Walter Reed which I was able to do a few weeks ago without any fanfare whatsoever. I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisors, a former military officer.”

Continued Obama, “And we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person, and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn’t on the Senate staff. That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political. And the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns.”

“So rather than go forward and potentially get caught up in what might have been considered a political controversy of some sort,” Obama said, “what we decided was that we not make a visit and instead I would call some of the troops that were there. So that essentially would be the extent of the story.”

Jake Tapper reported Chuck Hagel’s reaction to the Landstuhl story as well as another anti-Obama smear:

On CBS’s Face the Nation this morning, host Bob Schieffer asked Hagel about McCain’s claim that “Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a campaign.”

“I think John is treading on some very thin ground here when he impugns motives and when we start to get into, ‘You’re less patriotic than me. I’m more patriotic,'” Hagel said. “I admire and respect John McCain very much. I have a good relationship. To this day we do. We talk often. I talked to him right before I went to Iraq, as a matter of fact. John’s better than that.”

Schieffer also asked about McCain’s new TV ad in which he says Obama in Europe “made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.”

Hagel, who accompanied Obama on their official trip to Afghanistan and Iraq but broke off in Jordan, said, “the congressional delegation that you referred to ended when we parted in Jordan. At that point, it was a political trip for Senator Obama. I think it would have been inappropriate for him and certainly he would have been criticized by the McCain people and the press and probably should have been if on a political trip in Europe paid for by political funds – not the taxpayers -to go, essentially, then and be accused of using our wounded men and women as props for his campaign…I think it would be totally inappropriate for him on a campaign trip to go to a military hospital and use those soldiers as props. So I think he probably, based on what I know, he did the right thing.”

Hagel said he wasn’t sure about all the details of the controversy, but “we saw troops everywhere we went on the congressional delegation. We went out of our way to see those troops.”

Hagel said of McCain’s ad, “I do not think it was appropriate.”

Here is Karen Tumulty on McCain’s attack ad (emphasis mine):

The charter landed about a half-hour ago in Chicago, to news that the McCain campaign has launched what Halperin is calling its “toughest attack ad yet.” But there’s a little problem with this line:

And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops.

Sure enough, the accompanying footage shows Obama playing basketball … with the troops in Kuwait.
[…]
Jake Tapper notes the ad also claims that Obama cancelled the trip because he was told he couldn’t bring the media. There is absolutely no evidence for that one. The campaign insists that the plan had been to leave us at the airport, and the military has confirmed that arrangements were being made to hold media and staff there at a passenger terminal.

As I have heard the campaign’s explanations for this decision over the past few days, as well as the attacks, I am convinced that it comes down to something that campaign strategist Robert Gibbs told reporters on the plane: When the campaign learned of the Pentagon’s concerns (Wednesday night), they realized that, however they structured the hospital visit, they were going to come in for criticism.

So they had a decision to make, and they had to do it on the fly. Their choice was to take a hit for going (even if it was a private detour from a very public campaign swing, Obama was going to be accused of using wounded troops for political gain), or a hit for not going (the charge would be–and has been–that Obama didn’t care about wounded troops). They decided to take the latter. …

Which points up the essential hypocrisy of the hysteria among the wingnuts: that Obama would have been condemned regardless of which decision he made.

Some blogger commentary:

  • Matthew Yglesias:

    When you think about the stunningly dishonest ad John McCain is running, falsely accusing Barack Obama of not meeting with troops during his trip abroad and falsely accusing Obama of some scheme to deny money to the troops, you have to recall the breathtakingly unprincipled way in which McCain has been pursuing the presidency from the beginning. …

    … He’s a guy who really wants to win the election, and he’s willing to adopt pretty much any policy position and launch pretty much any dishonest attack on his opponent that he thinks will help him get there. If that means totally fictitious ads about Obama refusing to meet with soldiers, then fine.

  • Outside the Beltway:

    This strikes me as a weak attack and a poor campaign strategy. First, Obama can rightly blame the Pentagon for the canceled trip even though it’s technically true that he was free to go in his capacity as a United States Senator if he left his campaign staff and camera crew behind. Second, my guess is that those who are going to vote on the basis of such things are already in McCain’s camp.

  • Steve Benen:

    It’s nothing short of breathtaking to watch a once honorable man want the presidency so desperately, he’s willing to flush his credibility and reputation down the toilet. John McCain’s new TV ad marks a turning point, not only in this presidential campaign, but as a measurement of McCain’s increasingly absent character.
    […]
    Perhaps the greatest irony of the ad is that it shows Obama playing basketball in a gym, while blurring the image to prevent the viewer from noting that Obama was surrounded by U.S. troops at the time, and the gym was actually on a U.S. military base in Kuwait. McCain’s ad, in other words, attacks Obama for blowing off the troops, while literally showing him hanging out with the troops.

  • Hot Air:

    This is a sequel to the attack ad McCain dropped on him at the beginning of his trip, retaining some of the same points about Obama’s NATO subcommittee and his having steered clear of Iraq for almost three years. It’s also a sequel of sorts to the “Pump” ad from a few days ago suggesting that Obama uniquely was somehow to blame for soaring gas prices; anyone who believes that will, I guess, also believe that he’d torpedo a visit to see wounded troops because there’d be no flashbulbs popping in his face. Not only does that not fit the facts — he left his pool reporters outside when he visited Walter Reed a few weeks ago, and as I noted last night, his spokesman says the plan at Landstuhl was to keep the press on the plane — but even under the worst assumptions, it makes no sense. …

  • Angry Bear:

    This only makes McCain both a liar and a petty little man. But check out this Youtube of where Obama played hoops – sure looks like American soldiers to me. Jonathan Martin has the details. In addition to being petty and dishonest, Team McCain is also incredibly stupid.

  • TPM Election Central:

    As we reported yesterday, the Pentagon told Obama that the issue here was not that he couldn’t bring cameras, but that he only had campaign staff with him and not Senate staffers. And since the Pentagon didn’t tell him this until he had already embarked on his trip, it was too late for him to do anything.

  • The Liberal Journal:

    By falsely accusing Obama of politicizing the troops, McCain is actually guilty of the same. Unfortunately, outside of the blogosphere, no one will challenge him on it. …

  • The Anonymous Liberal:

    This is the kind of ad that would be cheap and dishonorable if it was run by a fly-by-night 527 group. But, sure enough, McCain himself “approves this message.” He approves the false statements. He approves using the troops as props in cheap demagoguery. He approves implying that his opponent doesn’t place “country first.” How honorable.

    McCain’s claim that Obama snubbed wounded troops because they wouldn’t allow him to take cameras with him may be the most scurrilous and dishonorable claim I’ve ever seen a presidential candidate make in a personally-approved ad.

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.

7 Responses to “A Stunningly Dishonest Campaign Ad”

  1. gcotharn says:

    First, I agree the McCain commercial is dishonest. McCain should be ashamed.
    McCain is a tough and mean campaigner. This is his style, and it is unbecoming.

    Second, you do not want to see the flaw in your argument about Landstuhl.

    Certain wingnuts (I say a small number) maybe always were going to criticize the Landstuhl visit as political. So what? Obama, properly so, scheduled the trip anyway. If Obama had gone to Landstuhl w/o Gration (whom few had ever heard of before this), then the exact (small) amount of criticism Obama had previously expected would have occurred. After Obama finished the Landstuhl visit: Gration would’ve still be some anonymous guy whom no one had ever heard of.

    Read Obama’s statement with new eyes: Obama is saying he refused to go to Landstuhl without Gration. Obama chose Gration over visiting with troops. That “politicized” stuff is Obama’s after the fact spin – illogical after the fact spin; untruthful spin.

  2. gcotharn says:

    BTW: the Jake Tapper reported Robert Gibbs spin is illogical:

    When the campaign learned of the Pentagon’s concerns (Wednesday night), they realized that, however they structured the hospital visit, they were going to come in for criticism.

    “Concerns” is a bit of dramatic fluff. The Pentagon merely said Gration’s attendance would break their rules.

    The Obama campaign always knew – from the first moment the visit was discussed – they would receive some criticism from some persons. Leaving Gration behind would not increase that original (small, imo) amount of criticism which they, as a Presidential campaign, had to be expecting from some (stupid and/or partisan) sources.

    The only way any scene was going to be created was if the Obama campaign tried to force Gration onto the visit. If Obama had left Gration behind, the Landstuhl visit would’ve been a large net plus for him and his campaign.

  3. Kathy says:

    Obama is saying he refused to go to Landstuhl without Gration.

    No, he did not say that he “refused to go without Gration.” That is incorrect. Read Jake Tapper’s piece again. I’m not going to explain this to you over and over.

  4. gcotharn says:

    Okay, I’m laying this out, then you can damn me or whatever, and I am completely done, b/c I can’t do any more than this. I’m inserting my own inserted notes, in brackets, to make it clear what Obama is saying. Why was Obama a bit vague? He is trying to get away with his “politicized” story. But, look at what he is saying in your ABC News story above:

    Continued Obama, “And we got notice that he [Gration] would be treated as a campaign person, and it [Gration’s visiting Landstuhl] would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn’t on the Senate staff. That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit [with Gration w/us] was going to be perceived as political. And the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this [a visit with Gration w/us] is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns.”

    “So rather than go forward [with the visit with Gration w/us] and potentially get caught up in what might have been considered a political controversy of some sort,” Obama said, “what we decided was that we not make a visit….

    If Obama visits w/o Gration, no one to this day knows who Gration is, and Obama receives no more criticism than such a visit would’ve originally generated from stupid and/or partisan persons.

    Obama refused to visit w/o Gration, and that’s exactly what he is saying in his vague-enough-to- gain-media-sympathy statement.

    You know what I actually suspect/speculate? Wild speculation, but here’s my instinct of things: Gration was angered, and Gration convinced Obama to teach Landstuhl/Pentagon a lesson by cancelling the visit. However, the Pentagon plays hardball. Pentagon then had a hospital person release that specific heart-tugging quote to the media: “I don’t know why Obama didn’t come. We were all ready for him.” That quote, which implies disappointed wounded troops, is a quote guaranteed to get someone like me all in a lather.

    But, the crux of my point is: if Obama truly thought leaving Gration behind would somehow “politicize” the visit, then Obama was temporarily insane. I don’t think Obama was insane. I think Obama is spinning his way past this kerfluffle. I think he now wishes like heck he had gone to Landstuhl w/o Gration. This thing is going to dog him right up to election day. My opinion: Obama should’ve just fessed up to momentary bad judgment, apologized, and promised to try like heck to make up for it between now and the election. That would’ve gained Obama some sympathy, as everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately for Obama, he’s not so good at admitting mistakes.

  5. Pug says:

    John’s better than that

    No he isn’t, Senator Hagel.

    McCain inreasingly looks like he’s running for Crabby Old Grandpa of the United States. Unfortunately, this particular bit of sleaze is probably only the beginning.

    He has nothing positive to offer, only same old character assassination Republicans have used since Lee Atwater ran G.H.W. Bush’s sleazy campaign.

  6. Kathy says:

    gcotharn:

    1. Your “inserted notes” do NOT make it clear what Obama was saying, because he *didn’t* say those things — *you did.*

    2. Obama did not “refuse to visit w/o Gration,” and he never said anything close to that. You simply made that up and are trying to pass off as truth the lie that Obama said it. He did not.

    3. Wild speculation, but here’s my instinct of things: Gration was angered, and Gration convinced Obama to teach Landstuhl/Pentagon a lesson by cancelling the visit.

    Well, at least here you acknowledge that your statement is “wild speculation” and not truth. Speculate all you want, as long as you admit that’s what you’re doing.

    4. Why was Obama a bit vague? He is trying to get away with his “politicized” story.

    Why was Obama a bit vague? Because he *doesn’t know each and every detail,* because *his staff was working this event, not him.* Which is what he told Jake Tapper. If you want to believe something else, fine; but don’t attribute it to Obama.

    5. Unfortunately for Obama, he’s not so good at admitting mistakes.

    Actually, that’s false. Obama has admitted mistakes several times in this campaign. In this instance, *he did not make a mistake.* It’s the Pentagon’s fault that this happened,* for telling Obama’s staff *after they were already in Europe, on a campaign-financed trip, with only campaign staff and without any Senate staff,* that he could not visit Landstuhl with a former military officer who had endorsed his candidacy.

    Also lost in all this, and completely unmentioned by you or any of the other lunatics who are savaging Obama for this incident, is the FACT that he (Obama) *did* speak to the wounded troops *by phone.*

  7. gcotharn says:

    I appreciate your consideration in reading through my previous comment.

    One protestation: this lunatic has aknowledged, in a reply to Hold_That_Tiger in the previous Landstuhl thread, that Obama did speak to the troops by phone, after the s@#%storm had begun, which therefore is indicative of nothing.

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