During the DemCan debates, Calvin Woodward took it on himself, with help of Kathleen Hall Jamieson, of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, to fact check every word out of the candidates' mouths. He took exception to John Kerry saying that he slept on the Mall during a famous demonstration against the Vietnam War. He kept on Howard Dean's use of statistics to criticize the BushCo tax cuts as weighted to favor the rich. He accused Sen. Kerry of oversimplifying the issue of Medicare reform and the imminent costs ahead to seniors.
Based on the standards he set for political campaigning then, you would guess that he'd be all over Team BushCo's recent ad about Sen. Kerry supporting a 50-cent per gallon gas tax increase. You'd be wrong.
Instead of the kind of vigilance we got from Mr. Woodward over the DemCan debates, we get this confusing, rambling story about the difficulty of politicizing the price of gasoline. Mr. Woodward writes:
Already, the debate is forming in the presidential contest, with Democrats in Congress testing themes John Kerry can use against Bush, and Republicans reminding voters that Kerry backed a 4.3-cent increase in the gas tax in 1993 and spoke in support of a 50-cent tax increase on a gallon a year later.
``Voters who are concerned about higher gas prices certainly will be troubled by a candidate who has supported an astronomical increase in the price per gallon,'' Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. The 50-cent increase, proposed by another senator for deficit reduction, did not come to a Senate vote.
That sentence at the end was Mr. Woodward's way of staying balanced. The astronomical increase was proposed by another senator and didn't come to a vote. But he's already said that Sen. Kerry supported it and a 4.3-cent increase only a year earlier. What did that support entail? We don't find out. Mr. Woodward doesn't ask for Ms. Jamieson Hall's help here, but let's see what FactCheck.org, a website affiliated with the Annenberg Center for Public Policy says about the ad:
By saying that Kerry "supported higher gasoline taxes 11 times" this ad could give you the idea that Kerry voted for 11 different tax increases, which isn't true. Actually, a close look at the Bush campaign's own count shows that nine of the eleven were about a single increase. Five of those votes came in the manuevering that led to a single 4.3-cent-per-gallon increase in 1993, as part of President Clinton's economic package. Four more votes for "higher" taxes were actually cast against Republican attempts to repeal that same 4.3-cent increase in 1996, 1998 and 2000. (On one of those votes most Republicans voted against repeal, too.) The Bush campaign also counts a vote in 2000 against a proposal to suspend the federal gasoline tax entirely for six months -- which left gasoline taxes unchanged, not "higher." The 11th instance cited by the Bush campaign wasn't a vote at all -- just that Kerry quote from 1994 that he'd once supported a 50-cent increase.
Isn't true? Where's Ms. Jamieson Hall when Mr. Woodward needs her? Instead of holding Team BushCo to the standards he set for the DemCans, Mr. Woodward has decided now to talk about the strategy of campaigning. He wants to pay attention to how BushCo complained about gas prices in 2000, just as Sen. Kerry is doing now. He tells us that it is a potentially volatile issue:
By any measure, prices have entered a political discomfort zone that could become combustible if the summer driving season puts yet more pressure on the expense of getting around.
and that it doesn't matter at all:
But political analysts say the upward trend in prices over several months has been slow to bite as a campaign issue.
``It's more of an annoyance,'' said Al Tuchfarber, a political scientist at the University of Cincinnati. ``It's much too far out from the election to suggest it will have a meaningful impact.''
He says that the price of gasoline has hit record-breaking heights, but later tells us that adjusted for inflation, the prices are not as high as they were in 1981. And then he ends the exercise in confusion with a tip of the hat to the press' favorite meme, BushCo strong/Kerry weak:
Generally, economic issues have proven to be Kerry's strengths in polls, while Bush has the advantage on matters of national security and terrorism. And economic troubles tend to be blamed on those in power.
"Generally", "tend to". The only strong statement there is that BushCo has the advantage on matters of national security and terrorism. You have to give credit to Mr. Woodward for clinging so bravely to the idea that BushCo is still considered strong on national defense given the week he's just had. But as we know, Mr. Woodward isn't one to give up a narrative easily.
The fact is that there is a lot to correct in the latest BushCo ad, certainly enough to fill a column, but Mr. Woodward doesn't step up to tackle any of it. Read the FactCheck.org piece to see how much Mr. Woodward is willing to ignore.