“A severe character defect”

Joe Klein calls out John McCain and the new Swiftboaters.

Since the days of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, Republicans have run filthy political campaigns for the same reason Putin invaded Georgia and is now breaking the cease-fire: because they’re confident they can get away with it and pay no price they care about.

As long as the press plays the game of “X charged … but Y denied” with respect to false charges (Kerry was a coward whose decorations were based on fabricated evidence, Barack Obama refused to visit wounded soldiers because he couldn’t bring cameras along) and true ones (McCain’s budget math is fraudulent and his tax plan would take money from the middle class and give it to the rich) alike, the side more shameless about lies and slanders has a huge structural advantage.

What seems to be different this year is that important figures in the mainstream press are no longer willing to play by those rules. McCain’s lie about Obama’s visit with the troops, at once so damaging and so obviously false &#8212 known to be so by every reporter who covered the trip &#8212 seems to have broken the ice, with even Andrea Mitchell driven to protest.

A key figure here is Joe Klein, who is increasingly willing to break the conventions of one-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand reportage and just say, “This is a lie and the guy telling it is a bad person.” Klein’s latest column covers two topics: the anti-Obama screed by Joe Corsi of Swiftboat infamy, published by Mary Matalin and leading the best-seller lists due to bulk sales and the wingnut promotion machine, and the Joe Lieberman line, endorsed by McCain, that Obama does not “put America first.”

Klein’s column is a well-written yelp of anger and disgust, and deserves to be read in full. But here’s the nut:

There is no excuse for what the McCain campaign is doing on the “putting America first” front. There is no way to balance it, or explain it other than as evidence of a severe character defect on the part of the candidate who allows it to be used.

Right. And all the more potent coming from Klein, who is not generally to be confused with a DailyKos diarist.

Like Putin and his KGB mafia, McCain and the Rovians need to be taught that cheating has consequences. I only wish Russia were going to be as easy to deal with as the Republican slime machine. It doesn’t take weapons or economic sanctions to banish Rovianism from our politics: just a few more reporters willing to do what Joe Klein is doing.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com