Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Analysis: Obama's "Dos Caras" Ad Links McCain to Rush Limbaugh

Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) presidential campaign released an ad on September 15, 2008, with this content (both the TV and radio versions were aired in Spanish and appear below as translated into English):

OBAMA: I am Barack Obama and I approve this message.
NARRATOR: They want us to forget the insults we've put up with,
TEXT: "... stupid and unskilled Mexicans" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: The intolerance.
TEXT: "Shut your mouth or get out!" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: They made us feel marginalized in this country we love so much. John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces.
TEXT: Caused the failure of immigration reform -- McCain campaign advertisement
NARRATOR: One that lies just to get our vote, and another even worse, continues the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families. John McCain: more of the same old Republican tricks.

* YouTube: "Dos Caras" Ad
* YouTube: No Way Obama - Dos Caras "Two Faces" Translated
* Wash Post: Obama Invokes Rush Limbaugh in New Spanish-Language Ads (September 17, 2008)

The radio version of the ad also included the following:

NARRATOR: Don't forget that John McCain abandoned us rather than confront the leaders of the Republican Party. Many of us were born here, and others came to work and achieve a better life for their families -- not to commit crimes or drain the system like many of John McCain's friends claim. Let's not be fooled by political tricks from John McCain and the Republicans. Vote so they respect us. Vote for a change.

McCain's "Which Side Are They On?" Ad

This ad from the Obama campaign was in part responding to an earlier ad from the McCain campaign, released on September 12, 2008 (which also aired in Spanish and appears below as translated into English):

NARRATOR: Obama and his congressional allies say they are on the side of immigrants.
TEXT: On our side?
NARRATOR: But are they? The press reports that their efforts were "poison pills" that made immigration reform fail.
TEXT: Caused the failure of immigration reform
NARRATOR: The result: No guest worker program.
TEXT: Result: guest worker program: no
NARRATOR: No path to citizenship.
TEXT: Result: path to citizenship: no
NARRATOR: No secure borders.
TEXT: Result: secure borders: no
NARRATOR: No reform.
TEXT: It didn't happen
NARRATOR: Is that being on our side? Obama and his congressional allies ready to block immigration reform, but not ready to lead.
TEXT: Ready to block a reform of immigration. But not ready to govern.
MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.
TEXT: Paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee. Approved by John McCain.

* YouTube: Which Side Are They On?
* YouTube: McCain ad: Which Side Are They On?
* CNN: McCain ad slams Obama, Senate Democrats on immigration (September 13, 2008)
* WorldNetDaily: McCain TV ad blames Obama for 'amnesty' failure – in Spanish (September 18, 2008)

This ad from the McCain campaign blames Obama and other Democrats for the failure to pass the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, a bill which would have granted legal residence to many illegal aliens.

(For the final vote, see the Senate web site: S. 1348 (Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007).)

This criticism is dubious. It's far from clear that Obama and the Senate Democrats were responsible for the bill not being passed. Senate procedure on passing legislation is fairly complicated, and it's arguable as to who deserves blame for any piece of legislation failing to get passed in the Senate. Suffice to say that, in the case of this immigration reform legislation, there were lots of people involved in the process -- both Republicans and Democrats, and even the President -- who could be considered for blame.

(The claim of Obama's radio ad -- that "John McCain abandoned us rather than confront the leaders of the Republican Party" -- is similarly dubious.)

At any rate, it's far from obvious that the Democrats should shoulder ALL the blame. McCain's ad mentions "press reports" that blame Democrats for killing the legislation. But the accuracy of these press reports is given scant attention, and -- even if they ARE correct -- they still fall short of saying that Democrats are SOLELY to blame.

Obama's Response

However, Obama's response went much further than simply saying that lots of people could be blamed for the death of the immigration reform bill.

Obama's "Dos Caras" ad essentially makes three points:
  1. McCain is lying when he blames Democrats for the death of the immigration reform bill;
  2. McCain wants to continue "the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families"; and,
  3. McCain is friends with talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has called Mexicans "stupid and unskilled" and told immigrants to "shut up or get out".

The "Two Faces" Republicans Show

The Obama ad accuses Republicans of displaying two different sides or "faces" (I assume the ad means they are shown to the Spanish-speaking community, especially immigrants):

John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces. One that lies just to get our vote, and another even worse, continues the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families.

But was McCain lying when he accused Democrats of killing the immigration reform bill? I agree McCain's accusation is questionable and not clearly true, but that's far from saying it's intentionally false. Obama's ad gives us no reason to believe that McCain's accusation is an intentional falsehood or a knowing and willful endorsement of false beliefs (i.e., a lie). If he wants to claim that it is, then he needs to back it the claim, not simply assert it.

As to the other "face" that Republicans show -- continuing "the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families" -- this is obviously an attempt to disparage Bush's (and Republican's) policies as failed policies. As is typical, however, Obama's ad gives little support to this assertion.

In addition, he provides no substance to the claim that McCain (and Bush and Republicans) put special interests ahead of working families, nor does he define what a "special interest" is or explain why "special interests" are bad.

The Quotes from Rush Limbaugh

The Obama ad engages in outright distortion in the way it quoted Limbaugh.

The quotes the Obama ad mentioned were:

stupid and unskilled Mexicans


Shut your mouth or get out!

These are both direct quotes from Limbaugh. However, they are removed from their context in such a way as to make it seem like Limbaugh is saying that Mexicans are stupid and unskilled, and as telling immigrants (or, perhaps, Central and South American, or Spanish-speaking immigrants?) to shut up and leave.

But both of these impressions are false, as is evident when you consider the quotes in context.

"Stupid and Unskilled Mexicans"

Regarding the first quote, it was made by Limbaugh on his radio show in 1993, while he was supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Defending NAFTA against its critics, Limbaugh said:

If you are unskilled and uneducated, your job is going south. Skilled workers, educated people are going to do fine 'cause those are the kinds of jobs NAFTA is going to create. If we are going to start rewarding no skills and stupid people, I'm serious, let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do -- let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.

* ABC News: From the Fact Check Desk: Obama's New Spanish Language TV Ad Es ErrĂ³neo (September 17, 2008)

Limbaugh is responding to NAFTA critics who argue that the trade deal will cause the U.S. to lose jobs. In attempting to rebut this criticism, Limbaugh refers to "stupid", "uneducated", and "unskilled" people in both Mexico AND the U.S. He doesn't single out Mexicans as being stupid and unskilled. Nor does he say that ALL Mexicans are stupid and unskilled.

Limbaugh shouldn't have used the term "stupid" -- it is a derisive term unfairly assigning mental deficiency -- even if he was merely trying to mock NAFTA critics for what he saw as the low esteem that they held for unskilled laborers. But it is simply false for the Obama campaign to imply that Limbaugh was tarring all (or even only) Mexicans with the term. By quoting Limbaugh out of context, Obama's ad was making a false accusation of bigotry.

"Shut up or get out!"

The second quote -- "Shut up or get out!" -- was also taken out of context.

It was made on April 6, 2006, again on Limbaugh's radio show:

Everybody's making immigration proposals these days. Let me add mine to the mix. Call it The Limbaugh Laws:

First: If you immigrate to our country, you have to speak the native language. You have to be a professional or an investor; no unskilled workers allowed. Also, there will be no special bilingual programs in the schools with the Limbaugh Laws. No special ballots for elections. No government business will be conducted in your language. Foreigners will not have the right to vote or hold political office.

If you're in our country, you cannot be a burden to taxpayers. You are not entitled to welfare, food stamps, or other government goodies. You can come if you invest here: an amount equal to 40,000 times the daily minimum wage. If not, stay home. But if you want to buy land, it'll be restricted. No waterfront, for instance. As a foreigner, you must relinquish individual rights to the property.

And another thing: You don't have the right to protest. You're allowed no demonstrations, no foreign flag waving, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our President or his policies. You're a foreigner: shut your mouth or get out! And if you come here illegally, you're going to jail.

You think the Limbaugh Laws are harsh? Well, every one of the laws I just mentioned are actual laws of Mexico today! That's how the Mexican government handles immigrants to their country. Yet Mexicans come here illegally and protest in our streets!

How do you say 'double standard' in Spanish? How about: 'No mas!'

* Politico: Limbaugh, hitting back over usage in ad, says Obama "stoking racism" (September 17, 2008)

What Limbaugh was trying to do here was to expose what he saw as a double standard: the abundant criticism of the harshness U.S. immigration laws versus the absence of criticism for Mexican immigration laws, despite the fact that Mexican immigration laws are more stringent. And he did this by asking us to imagine what would happen if the immigration laws in effect at the time in Mexico were proposed for the U.S.

Limbaugh never actually advocated having these laws -- laws that, with their prohibition on political demonstrations and other restrictions, could be bluntly summarized as telling immigrants to "Shut your mouth or get out". He merely asked his audience to think what kind of reception a "shut your mouth or get out" immigration policy would get if it were proposed for the U.S.

Limbaugh was speaking hypothetically, not actually endorsing such an attitude. By quoting him out of context, the Obama ad is distorting his position and unfairly demonizing him as being anti-immigrant.

Again, this amounts to a false accusation of bigotry on the part of Obama and his campaign.

(The Washington Post piece by Ed O'Keefe -- Wash Post: Obama Invokes Rush Limbaugh in New Spanish-Language Ads (September 17, 2008) -- also falsely makes the accusation, describing the Obama ad as trying to link "Sen. John McCain to anti-immigrant comments made by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh". As discussed above, Limbaugh's comments weren't anti-immigrant.)

Guilt by Association?

There is another element to Obama's ad that is questionable: its reference to Limbaugh (and others) as being a "friend" of McCain.

There are several problems with this assertion.

First, it's not clear in what sense -- if any -- Limbaugh and McCain could correctly be called friends. They're both Republicans, and agree on some political issues, such as the war in Iraq. But their acrimonious disagreement on various other political issues -- such as illegal immigration -- is well-known, and they are not friends in the sense of having friendly relations with one another.

So, if the Obama campaign is going to call Limbaugh and McCain "friends", then it needs to spell out precisely what is meant by this ambiguous term. Otherwise, how can we tell whether or not the assertion is true?

Second, supposing that Limbaugh and McCain ARE friends, why should that make us think less of McCain (as is the clear implication of Obama's ad)? Is this an attempt to assign guilt by association? Guilt by association is not a straightforward business: just because person A is friends with person B and person B did something bad, it doesn't necessarily follow that we should also think badly of person A.

Lastly, the radio version of Obama's ad says this:

Many of us were born here, and others came to work and achieve a better life for their families -- not to commit crimes or drain the system like many of John McCain's friends claim.

This is yet another accusation referencing "friends" of McCain. This time, Obama's ad accuses these "friends" of saying that immigrants (or, perhaps, Central and South American, or Spanish-speaking immigrants?) come here in order "to commit crimes or drain the system".

But Obama provides no evidence of who it is who has said this. The ad cites no quotes and no names (though, of course, even when they named Limbaugh and gave quotes from him, they STILL failed to prove their case).

The burden of proof is on Obama and his campaign to prove that these things have been said (and said by "friends" of McCain, and to THEN explain why this should make us think less of McCain). Without such proof, it is evidence of yet another false accusation of bigotry.


So, to round up, McCain ran an ad making an unsubstantiated accusation that Obama and Democrats killed an immigration reform bill.

Obama responded with an ad that made several accusations of his own:

  • that McCain lied;
  • that Republican policies were failed policies;
  • that Limbaugh (and others) made bigoted, anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican statements; and,
  • that McCain's friendship with Limbaugh (and others) should make us think worse of him.

And these accusations of Obama's wound up being unsubstantiated or even false.

-- Civ.

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