Drop the games

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama claimed that his opponent, John McCain, was a George Bush clone.

“John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time,” Obama said. “McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time?”

The technique isn’t very subtle. Obama wanted to identify his opponent with the massively unpopular Bush. That made the technique clever, but not honorable.

McCain had been trashed by Bush’s people in the 2000 campaign, and McCain had been one of the most consistent Republican critics of some of Bush’s policies over the years. In addition, McCain had provided important support to Bill Clinton during his presidency.

Obama’s use of this technique harkened back to the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when Republicans claimed that Democrats voted with a very leftist (Republicans called him a communist) New York City member of Congress much of the time.

It has a surface logic but doesn’t allow for the nuances of governing and cannot withstand examination, which is why it’s intellectually dishonest. Most votes, for instance, are pretty routine and draw the support of most Democrats and Republicans. Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, for instance, also voted with Bush most of the time.

That brings us to Rory Reid, the knowledgable and capable Democratic nominee for governor of Nevada.

Reid’s television commercials mention Jim Gibbons and Brian Sandoval in the same breath. Sandoval is the Republican candidate for governor, Gibbons the enormously unpopular lame duck Republican governor. The spot says, in part, “Worst dropout rate, overcrowded classes, thanks to Jim Gibbons and Brian Sandoval cutting education and neglecting our schools.”

That’s untrue. Sandoval was never in a position to cut education funding. He has most recently been a federal judge. Before that he was attorney general. Before that he was a gambling regulator. Exactly when did he have a hand in “cutting education”?

At an appearance in Incline Village two weeks ago, Reid said of Sandoval, “He’s Jim Gibbons in a more expensive suit. If Nevadans want another term of Jim Gibbons, vote for Brian Sandoval.”

What has this got to do with the price of eggs? If Reid wants to find fault with Sandoval’s education program, he should do that. Instead, he tells voters that the two men have jointly damaged state schools, which is false.

And if being similar to Gibbons is such an indictable offense, why has Reid imitated the governor’s no-new-taxes stance? If Sandoval’s education program is so bad, why are Reid’s supporters saying (in our July 15 letters section, among other places) that it’s similar to Reid’s own schools program? And if it is so terrible, why isn’t Reid telling voters what’s wrong with it instead of just trying to link its author to the governor?

As a tactic, Reid’s effort to get the names of Jim Gibbons and Brian Sandoval into the same sentences over and over is not fair, it’s not accurate, and it’s not intellectually honest. It also prevents the public from knowing Reid’s own admirable programs. He needs to get the discussion onto issues instead of tactics. At the moment, the voters have no idea what the differences between him and Sandoval really are.