Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Even Fox News realizes that Palin & McCain are lying about the "Bridge to Nowhere"

At least, Fox newscaster Chris Wallace. is unwilling to be played for a sucker on this one.
WALLACE: During her 1.5, 2 years as Governor, Alaska continued to get more federal money for pork-barrel projects per capita than any state in the country and … she supported the Bridge to Nowhere. And it was only after the federal government dropped it out, killed it, the Congress killed it that she then opposed it. And in fact she still got the money for the approach, the ramp to the Bridge to Nowhere.
That quotation comes from a video clip of Wallace trying to pierce through the fog of propaganda from McCain campaign spokesman. Watch it HERE.

For some further details, see HERE & HERE.

=> This affair is less about earmarks than about lying--and whether a US Presidential campaign can get away scot-free with repeated, blatant, and unambiguous lying like this.

Congressional earmarks--that is, targeted funding for specific projects slipped into larger appropriation bills by House and Senate members--may or may not be the gravest issue facing the republic. But McCain has made his (genuine and principled) opposition to earmarks a centerpiece of his reformist agenda. And the McCain campaign, in its effort to market Palin as a kindred spirit and supposed "fiscal conservative," claims that Palin also has a record of opposing Congressional earmarks. It has vividly and repeatedly presented Governor Palin's rejection of one particularly notorious earmark, the "Bridge to Nowhere" between Ketchikan and Gravina Island, as Exhibit A.

Palin herself made this claim in the speech she gave in Dayton, Ohio (on August 29) when McCain announced that he had picked her to be his running-mate.
I've championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that "Bridge to Nowhere."
Since then she's repeated this claim, almost word-for-word, in her Republican Convention speech and in just about every campaign appearance.

In fact, the whole story is a fraud. As I've already noted, as Mayor of Wasilla Palin was nothing short of an earmark queen, and according to the Wall Street Journal ("Record Contradicts Palin's 'Bridge' Claims"), there is no sign that this has changed since she became Governor.
At a rally today, Sen. McCain again asserted that Sen. Obama has requested nearly a billion in earmarks. In fact, the Illinois senator requested $311 million last year, according to the Associated Press, and none this year. In comparison, Gov. Palin has requested $750 million in her two years as governor -- which the AP says is the largest per-capita request in the nation.
I suppose it's hypothetically possible that at some point, as either Mayor of Wasilla or Governor of Alaska, Palin rejected a federal earmark. But since the McCain campaign has failed to come up with a single concrete example, it seems safe to assume that this never happened.

At all events, the "Bridge to Nowhere" is a completely made-up example. This earmark had already been eliminated by Congress before Palin became Governor. In her campaign for Governor, Palin not only defended this project but attacked the very phrase "Bridge to Nowhere" as insulting and elitist. By then, however, this particular earmark had become a national joke, and the Congressional Republicans were embarrassed enough to kill it--though, in a compromise, the state of Alaska still got the money.

At that point, it's true, Alaska could still have used the money to build that bridge. But once the targeted mandate had been eliminated (by Congress, not by Palin), Palin kept the money and simply spent it on something else. She certainly didn't say "no thanks" to Congress and send back the money.

=> So this is an open-and-shut falsehood. Since the phrase "Bridge to Nowhere" has been unpopular in Alaska, my guess is that this "thanks, but no thanks, on that "Bridge to Nowhere" line was dictated to Palin by the McCain campaign, rather than something she formulated herself. (I could be wrong about that.) McCain himself has not only repeated this lie but added various embellishments ... for example:

“The fact is that Gov. Palin learned that earmarks are bad and she did say, we don’t need our bridge to nowhere, and we will pay for it ourselves if we need it. I mean, that is just a fact.” [WWBT, 9/8/08]

[JW: Actually, it's a fiction.]

“And as governor of Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin said ‘We don’t need a bridge to nowhere and if we do, we’ll build it ourselves.’ That’s the kind of person — leader — we have.” [Press conference in Cedarsburg, WI, 9/5/08]

“Look, we couldn’t get the ‘bridge to nowhere’ out, although we tried. … Yeah, the pork barrel project, $233 million bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it. She, as governor, stood up and said, we don’t need it, and if we need it, we’ll pay for it ourselves.” [Fox News, 8/31/08]

“You know, I tried to stop the $233 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska. She got it done! She stopped it! (Cheers, applause.) You know what she said? She said, we don’t need that money from Washington. If we’re going to need a bridge, we’ll build it ourselves. That’s Governor Sarah Palin!” [Rally in O’Fallon, MO, 8/31/08]

(What Palin actually said was more along the lines of: If we have to build it ourselves, then we'll just keep the money from Washington and deep-six the bridge.)

=> When a major national campaign continues to repeat a blatant falsehood like this, one is tempted to suspect that there must be some sort of complication, factual uncertainly, or interpretive ambiguity involved. There isn't.

I don't want to seem naive, but this is getting ridiculous. This bogus claim is not something arcane, complex, subtle, or ambiguous. It's a straightforward, easily refutable falsehood--the sort that even American political journalists should be able to understand and debunk. The fact that the McCain campaign continues to repeat this transparent falsehood, and even continues to use it as the centerpiece of its (equally bogus) claim that Palin was an anti-earmark reformer, is a little breathtaking.

If they can get away with it, and no one calls them to account ... then even Republicans should recognize that as bad news for the quality of our public discourse (which is not in great shape to start with).

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Wall Street Journal
September 9, 2008
Record Contradicts Palin's 'Bridge' Claims
By Elizabeth Holmes and Laura Meckler

The Bridge to Nowhere argument isn't going much of anywhere.

Despite significant evidence to the contrary, the McCain campaign continues to assert that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the federal government "thanks but no thanks" to the now-famous bridge to an island in her home state.

The McCain campaign released a television advertisement[1] Monday morning titled "Original Mavericks." The narrator of the 30-second spot boasts about the pair: "He fights pork-barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere."

Gov. Palin, who John McCain named as his running mate less than two weeks ago, quickly adopted a stump line bragging about her opposition to the pork-barrel project Sen. McCain routinely decries.
[2] See a video gallery of television ads run by the candidates and outside groups.
But Gov. Palin's claim comes with a serious caveat. She endorsed the multimillion dollar project during her gubernatorial race in 2006. And while she did take part in stopping the project after it became a national scandal, she did not return the federal money. She just allocated it elsewhere.

"We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge," Gov. Palin said in August 2006, according to the local newspaper, "and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative." The bridge would have linked Ketchikan to the airport on Gravina Island. Travelers from Ketchikan (pop. 7,500) now rely on ferries.

A year ago, the governor issued a press release[3] that the money for the project was being "redirected."

"Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," she said. "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."

On Monday in Missouri, Gov. Palin put it this way: "I told Congress thanks but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere. If the state wanted to build a bridge we would built it ourselves."

Senior adviser Mark Salter pointed to her role in killing the project while in office and allocating the money elsewhere. When pressed further that it was actually Congress that stopped the earmark, Mr. Salter said: "She stopped it, too. She did her part." Mr. Salter added that he welcomed a fight over earmarks with the Obama campaign.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama used a town-hall style event in Flint, Mich., to attack Gov. Palin over the "Bridge to Nowhere" debate. He accused the vice presidential nominee of lobbying for the bridge and then hiding her initial position when she ran for governor and the project became unpopular.

"You can't just make stuff up. You can't just recreate yourself. The American people aren't stupid," he said. It's like "being for it before you were against it," Sen. Obama said, a reference to a damaging statement John Kerry made in 2004.

Why is this one issue such a big deal? Sen. McCain's anti-earmarks stance has been paramount to his campaign. The Arizona senator has blamed everything from the Minneapolis bridge collapse to Hurricane Katrina on Congress's willingness to stuff bills full of pork barrel spending.

As such, Gov. Palin's image as a "reformer" is part of the storyline the McCain campaign needs to complement the top of its ticket. Her quip about passing on the bridge and "building it ourselves" has been a staple of her stump.

But she's drawn considerable fire as result. Sen. Obama's campaign released an advertisement[4] pointing out her original support of the bridge. And on Monday, an Obama staffer emailed a photo of Gov. Palin holding up a T-shirt that was made shortly after the bridge caught national attention. It reads "NOWHERE ALASKA" and "99901," the zip code of Ketchikan.

The McCain campaign jumped back with spokesman Brian Rogers calling the attacks "hysterical."

"The only people 'lying' about spending are the Obama campaign. The only explanation for their hysterical attacks is that they're afraid that when John McCain and Sarah Palin are in the White House, Barack Obama's nearly $1 billion in earmark spending will stop dead in its tracks," Mr. Rogers said.

At a rally today, Sen. McCain again asserted that Sen. Obama has requested nearly a billion in earmarks. In fact, the Illinois senator requested $311 million last year, according to the Associated Press, and none this year. In comparison, Gov. Palin has requested $750 million in her two years as governor -- which the AP says is the largest per-capita request in the nation.

Amy Chozick contributed to this story.
Write to Elizabeth Holmes at elizabeth.holmes@wsj.com and Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com