For some Democratic observers, it's been one of the most intensely debated questions of the general election campaign. Can you campaign against the honor of a former POW?
Increasingly, it looks as though Barack Obama's campaign feels as though they have little choice. In response to last week's ad accusing the Illinois Democrat of supporting explicit sex-ed for kindergarten students, an Obama spokesperson called McCain's campaign "perverse."
Now, after McCain himself defended the ad on "The View" Friday morning, the Obama camp is raising the honor question again.
"Today on "The View," John McCain defended his campaign's latest ad campaign, which has been debunked repeatedly as both false and sleazy. In running the sleaziest campaign since South Carolina in 2000 and standing by completely debunked lies on national television, it's clear that John McCain would rather lose his integrity than lose an election."
The last line, of course, is a play off of McCain's own controversial formulation, in which accused Barack Obama of being willing to lose the war in Iraq in order to prevail in a political campaign. It was also repeated in another Obama campaign email issued to reporters later on Friday, making it something of a new, unofficial slogan. (See update below.)
Obama's team also provided reporters with a myriad of independent criticisms of McCain's sex ad.
From The New York Times:
"The most disheartening aspect of a scurrilous Republican ad falsely accusing Barack Obama of promoting sex education for kindergarten children is its closing line: 'I'm John McCain, and I approved this message.' This from that straight-talker of yore, who fervidly denounced the 2004 Bush campaign's Swift Boat character attacks on John Kerry's military record." [Editorial, 9/12/08]
"The kindergarten ad flat-out lies." [Editorial, 9/12/08]
[The] accusations... seriously distort the record. ... In referring to the sex-education bill, the McCain campaign is largely recycling old and discredited accusations..." [9/11/08]
[McCain] "is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I've ever seen in presidential politics, so sleazy that I won't abet its spread by linking to it...." [Joe Klein, 9/10/08]
"A different category of dumb charge." [Ana Marie Cox, 9/10/08]
Annenberg Political Fact Check:
"The claim is simply false..." [FactCheck.org, 9/10/08]
The Chicago Sun-Times:
"McCain echoed a sexy--but misleading-- line of attack made last year by Mitt Romney..." [9/10/08]
"This is a deliberately misleading accusation." [9/9/08]
"The gap between the implication (Obama has liberal, radical views about sexuality) and the reality in this ad is pretty big and fairly consequential." [Marc Ambinder, 9/9/08]
UPDATE: In response to another McCain ad, titled "Change or more of the same," the Obama campaign sent out another strongly worded response raising the issue of McCain's integrity in conducting his campaign messaging.
"The McCain campaign's lies make it clear that John McCain would rather lose his integrity than lose this election. The fact is, John McCain has voted for millions in earmarks and his running mate has requested more pork per person than any governor in America -- including $2 million to study the mating patterns of crabs. Barack Obama has stood up to the lobbyists and corruption in Washington, and will bring real change that puts middle-class families first," said Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.