This week, National Review published an article by Byron York with the simple headline “On Sex-Ed Ad, McCain Is Right.”
Too bad that’s not what York’s article proves.
You’ll recall that last week the McCain campaign, to much opprobrium, released an ad spotlighting a sex education bill that Obama supported while an Illinois state senator. Here’s the full script:
Education Week says Obama “hasn’t made a significant mark on education”.
That he’s “elusive” on accountability.
A “staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly”.
Obama’s one accomplishment?
Legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners.
Learning about sex before learning to read?
Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.
There are a slew of problems with this—the ad’s tortured definition of the word “accomplishment,” for one. The bill didn’t pass, and Obama wasn’t a prime author, co-sponsor, or sponsor. Given that characterization of “accomplishment,” it’s even more absurd to believe that the failed bill could be described as his “one accomplishment.”
There have been several valuable> fact checks on this point, and on the nitty gritty of what the bill, should it have passed, would have actually done. All have found, essentially, that the ad’s central, nasty claim—that Obama voted to “teach ‘comprehensive sex education’ to kindergartners”—is bunk.
But York, in brave defense of the ad, and in defiance of common sense, does his best to prove otherwise. He suggests that there’s something rotten about all this fact checking, and about the “’McCain-is-a-liar’ storyline” that came from this ad. “But before accepting the story at face value,” he writes,
it might first be a good idea to examine the bill in question, look at the statements made by its supporters at the time it was introduced, talk to its sponsors today (at least the ones who will consent to speak), and find answers to a few basic questions. What were the bill’s provisions? Why was it written? Was it really just, or even mostly, about inappropriate advances? And the bottom-line question: Is McCain’s characterization of it unfair?
Agreed! The bottom line question is whether or not McCain’s description of the bill is fair. (Hint: It isn’t.) But reread the italicized sentence about “inappropriate advances.” By including that question, York, like a magician trying to distract his audience, introduces a side issue—namely, the validity of Obama and his campaign’s explanation for why he backed the bill. Perhaps that’s a worthy question, but not one that has anything to do with the truthfulness of McCain’s ad, ostensibly the subject of York’s piece.
Obama’s favorite retort, when confronted with this matter, is to note that the bill would have sanctioned warning young students about inappropriate sexual contact and rape. He mentioned this in 2004, when his GOP senatorial opponent, Alan Keyes, tried the attack in a debate. Here’s what Obama said in response:
We have a existing law that mandates sex education in the schools. We want to make sure that it’s medically accurate and age-appropriate. Now, I’ll give you an example, because I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and one of the things my wife and I talked to our daughter about is the possibility of somebody touching them inappropriately, and what that might mean. And that was included specifically in the law, so that kindergarteners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse, because I have family members as well as friends who suffered abuse at that age. So, that’s the kind of stuff that I was talking about in that piece of legislation.
His basic point—that the bill would have required sex ed to include age appropriate discussions of inappropriate touching—is sound. Was it the sole focus of the bill? No, but it’s still there, and its presence is hardly inconsistent with Obama’s 2004 statement describing the predator issues as “an example” of the “kind of stuff” to be found in the legislation.
After McCain’s ad slammed the bill, Obama spokesperson Bill Burton issued this statement:
It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls—a position that his friend Mitt Romney also holds.