Blood Over Oil [Updated]

After Obama released an ad in Pennsylvania claiming not to take money from oil companies, Clinton unleashed her own ad challenging Obama by name and calling on him to withdraw the original ad. Her beef: No one takes money from oil companies. It’s illegal. Also, she calls out Obama for his vote in favor of the “Bush Cheney energy bill” of 2005. (Listen to it here .)

Clinton seems to be right on this one. has a thorough analysis , which points out that Obama has taken more than $200,000 from people who work for oil companies and their spouses, plus tens of thousands more from two bundlers who are also oil execs. The energy bill vote is more complicated . While it was designed with Cheney’s guidance, and it did provide tax breaks for energy companies, it also offset those breaks with a tax hike for oil spills.

It’s fascinating to watch the Obama camp try to wriggle its way out of exaggerations like this. David Axelrod said there were no plans to revise the ad, saying, “I think it was accurate the way it was.” Well yes, it’s literally true that Obama takes no money from oil companies—that would be illegal. And yes, he’s within bounds when he says he doesn’t take money from PACs. But as gamely points out, “We’re not sure how a $5,000 contribution from, say, Chevron’s PAC would have more influence on a candidate than, for example, the $9,500 Obama has received from Chevron employees giving money individually.”

Back in November, John Edwards accused Clinton of “parsing” the truth. The context was a debate where she appeared to waffle on whether she supported Eliot Spitzer’s proposed drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants. A day later, she came out and explicitly opposed it. Now Obama is doing the same thing: Slicing the truth down into tiny pieces, the result of which isn’t false , exactly, but highly misleading. It would be politically embarrassing for Obama to drop the ad at Clinton’s request. But if he expects to hold his opponents to the same standard—say, to challenge Clinton on her absurd claim that she opposed the Iraq war before he did starting in 2005—a clarification would be in order.

It’s old news that Obama, by casting himself as the “change” candidate, has set his fans up for disappointment. No presidential candidate can succeed without some truth-twisting, and Obama is no different. But the oil ad isn’t a white lie, nor is it a necessary one. Just as a candidate must pick his battles, he must also ration his untruths.

Update 3:37 p.m.: Obama hits back with another spot. (Listen here .) Looks like he’s sticking with the true-in-fact-but-not-in-spirit claim that “he’s the only candidate who doesn’t take a dime from oilcompany PACs or lobbyists.”