Parity in mendacity? Not by a long shot

The latest CW is that Kerry is now matching Bush lie for lie. Don’t believe it.

The latest conventional wisdom is that John Kerry is now matching George W. Bush untruth for untruth. Sorry, no.

The three examples cited are the three issues on which Kerry is obviously getting traction: the draft, the flu snafu, and Social Security.

Kerry has said, quite carefully, that Bush’s policies create a situtation in which there is a “great potential” for needing a draft. The assertion that the conditions for a draft would never arise is false, and Bush has carefully avoided answering the question about what he would do if a draft became necessary. When the military is so desperate for battle-ready bodies that the star “opposition force” from the National Training Center is shipped to Iraq as cannon-fodder and replaced with a National Guard unit, it’s hard to say that extreme measures remain unthinkable. Bush’s position is that he’s against a draft, and that Kerry is lying when Kerry accuses Bush of having a secret plan for one. But of course Kerry has never accused Bush of any such thing. Once again, it’s Bush who’s lying.

On the flu vaccine, Kerry’s position is that Bush’s people were asleep at the switch. That’s true. The Note huffs that “the roots of vaccine shortage are not unambiguous.” Others point out that Kerry hasn’t laid out a program to magically make more vaccine appear. True enough. So what? The Bush Administration blundered, and lots of people will die as a result. That’s a legtimate issue, and a legitimate example of a broader issue: the Bush team’s lack of competence and follow-through on anything but politics.

So two out of the three dishonest, over-the-top Kerry attacks aren’t dishonest or over the top at all. They’re just good, hard, accurate criticisms of a vulnerable opponent on issues some voters passionately care about.

On Social Security, when Kerry said, or implied, to current retirees that the Bush “January surprise” on Social Security would threaten their checks, he said what probably isn’t true. But if he said that Bush plans to “privatize” Social Security, and that privatization would mean smaller checks for future retirees, he said what certainly is true, and moreover what Bush almost certainly said to a bunch of his fundraisers. (Note that no participant at that meeting has come forward to deny the account Suskind got from one attendee’s contemporaneous written notes and confirmed with several other attendees.)

So, as far as I can tell, of Kerry’s three “false charges” he was actually wrong about one-half of one charge. That’s one half too many, of course.

But parity with Bush? Don’t make me laugh.

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

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