FRESNO, Calif.–At a press conference this morning in Stockton, John McCain again staunchly defended the “Catholic Voter Alert” phone calls that his campaign is now making in Washington state. “I am proud to run them because they happen to be factual, and they happen to be, to a large degree, what this campaign is all about,” he declared to the assembled reporters. But the new calls themselves contain an implicit admission that the earlier ones made by the McCain campaign in Michigan were deceptive in the way I complained about a few days ago.
The difference lies in a small but highly significant wording change. The synthesized voice on McCain’s earlier Michigan messages stated: “John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Governor Bush has stayed silent while seeking the support of Bob Jones University.” This was highly misleading because Bush stayed silent only while he was at Bob Jones–not afterward, as the phrase “has stayed” implied. The injection of the single word “has” rendered McCain’s charge against Bush inaccurate.
According to the script released by McCain’s campaign this morning, the recorded message being used in Michigan says, “Senator John McCain has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Governor Bush stayed silent while gaining the support of Bob Jones University.” The word “has” is gone. Switching the tense of the phrase from present perfect to past renders the charge technically accurate.
But the calls are still entirely unfair. While Bush realistically had to know about the interracial dating policy at Bob Jones, there’s no reason to think he knew anything about the school’s far more obscure anti-Catholic doctrines before Tim Russert sandbagged him on Meet the Press nearly two weeks after the visit. Bush has now apologized, profusely, to Cardinal John O’Connor and other Catholics for not dissociating himself from these policies during his Bob Jones visit. The truth is that McCain might have overlooked Bob Jones’ anti-Catholicism had he chanced to visit the school himself.
While McCain’s messages don’t explicitly say that Bush is anti-Catholic, they are clearly designed to leave that impression on voters. The Bush campaign finally got Pat Robertson to stop making nasty phone calls about McCain supporter Warren Rudman. McCain should now withdraw his ugly calls about George W. Bush.