Through the smokescreen of political rhetoric

So, it’s up to us, folks.

The balloons are popped, the fireworks are spent, grand acceptance speeches have been made. The elaborate Hollywood-type sets have been struck, the flags and strange hats are packed away, the country music CDs silenced. The conventions are over.

As good citizens who want to make our votes count, we must sort through the verbiage, spin, disinformation, wild promises, clever attacks, innuendo, sexism, racism, classism and religiosity to pick the next president and vice president on the basis of substance, critical issues, vision, quality of experience and gut instinct.

This will not be easy.

Because of the unpopular war in Iraq and the weak economy, both blamed on President Bush, Barack Obama should be ahead in the polls. He’s not. Statistically, he and John McCain start the general election campaign about even.

No astute person denies that Democrats will gain House and Senate seats, but it’s impossible to say whether McCain or Obama will win. Flat predictions are based on emotion, gut feelings or wishful thinking. Swing voters are still deciding.

This is my scorecard of the smokescreens and false arguments we should avoid from both parties:

— At 72, McCain, who would be the oldest person elected to a first White House term, is too old to be president.

In fact, McCain survived five years of Viet Cong torture and cancer and has run a vigorous campaign for the GOP nomination nobody expected him to win just a few months ago. His doctors have sworn he is in good health and both mentally and physically fit to be president.

— Obama, multi-racial son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, is not a real American.

In fact, he is as much a red-blooded American as McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone.

— Obama is elitist. McCain doesn’t know how many houses he has.

In fact, Obama, reared by his Midwest working-class grandparents, got into Columbia and Harvard on his own merits. McCain’s wealth belongs to his wife, whose money from a beer distributorship is kept separate. Besides, he’s slept in so many hotel rooms, he can’t be faulted for not knowing which beds he owns.

— The media shows its bias by questioning the limited vetting new star Sarah Palin went through and whether McCain picked her impulsively.

In fact, digging into the backgrounds of the nation’s top leaders is the media’s job. Palin would be president if something happened to a President McCain. The media are not attacking her for reporting the fact, confirmed by Palin herself, that a politician who opposes sex education in schools has a pregnant 17-year-old daughter, or that she is under investigation for firing a state official who wouldn’t fire her ex-brother-in-law. She brought her family front and center.

— Palin’s full life as the governor of Alaska and a mother of five, including an infant, means she wouldn’t be a good vice president.

In fact, millions of women are time management/efficiency experts. If she believes she can handle it all, we should judge her on her merits, not our personal prejudices on the role of women.

— Joe Biden’s a party hack who talks too much and will be easily overshadowed by Palin.

In fact, the Delaware Democrat is smart, knowledgeable and competent with his own compelling family story. It’s an interesting match-up, but Americans vote the top of the ticket.

— Obama is a Muslim, and McCain is irreligious.

In fact, Obama is a practicing Christian; McCain, an Episcopalian. Both say their faith defines them. Both are moral men of good character.

— Wearing flag pins, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and lustily singing "God Bless America" are the bases on which you should judge a person’s patriotism.

In fact, neither candidate has a lock on loving his country or they wouldn’t undertake the grueling task of running for president. Symbols have their place, but they should not be mistaken for the real thing.

The presidency is not a symbolic job.


(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered every national political convention since 1976. E-mail her at amcfeatters(at)