Don’t Get it Twisted

September 10, 2008

The McCain campaign is soldiering on with the “yeah, you heard me!” strategy for dealing with Palin’s Bridge to Nowhere lie, and at this point what else can they do? It would have been smarter to issue a clarification before her acceptance speech, rather than a repeat during it, but at this point the die is cast. Still, one would think they would downplay the issue, rather than, say, write editorials in the WSJ on the subject. One would be wrong. From Senator Jim DeMint’s diatribe against Palin-haters:

Mrs. Palin also killed the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in her own state. Yes, she once supported the project: But after witnessing the problems created by earmarks for her state and for the nation’s budget, she did what others like me have done: She changed her position and saved taxpayers millions.

That first sentence is technically true. Palin did decide to stop plans for the bridge. But the part about saving taxpayers millions is utter nonsense. The McCain camp has been able to keep saying this because: 1.) nobody understands what an earmark is, and 2.) journalists and irate liberals are terrible at explaining anything even remotely related to economics. But there is actually nothing complicated about what happened here:

Back in 2005, Ted Stevens – who has finally outgrown his reputation as “that series-of-tubes guy” by getting himself implicated in lots of high profile corruption – made a big stink about other senators trying to divert his Bridge to Nowhere money into Katrina relief. In the end, the earmark for the bridge was taken away. But Stevens essentially won that fight, as congress never took away any actual money from Alaska, only the requirement that some of that money be spent on a bridge. Two years later, there still wasn’t enough money to build the bridge, and the project had become notorious enough that there was no hope of getting more money from Washington to build it, so she canned it and spent the money elsewhere. So, contrary to her standard “if we want a bridge, we’ll pay for it ourselves” line, her stance was in fact “if you’re not going to pay for this bridge, we’re not going to bother.” This, by the way, isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s exactly what she said at the time:

Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer. Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.

To DeMint’s credit, however, his approach to the affair is much less disingenous than that of the folks at the Corner. Jonah Goldberg repeatedly claims that Palin is being charged with a ‘flip-flop’, and what’s so terrible about that? Yuval Levin finds an even more bizarre angle:

Palin, however, is being taken to task for not initially opposing the bridge to nowhere when her congressional delegation had sponsored it and only later—after the furor surrounding it—coming around to kill the project. From Obama’s language about it, it seems he wants to suggest the bridge was a bad idea, and Palin is failing to acknowledge that she didn’t see that at first but only acted after others saw it.

Nope. He wants to suggest that she is lying through her teeth. Goldberg says the charge is that she once said x and then later said y, where x and y are contradictory. Levin says it’s simply that she once advocated x, where x isn’t the sort of thing one should be advocating. They rebut these charges very effectively, but they are dodging the real issue: McCain, Palin, and their surrogates are saying x over and over again, right now, where x is a patent lie. Take your cue from the senator, Cornerites: if you want to take on this issue, have the courage to lie about it, rather than just changing the subject.

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