Who Vetted Giuliani’s Speech?

Giuliani’s on fire at the RNC. He’s knocking (mocking) Obama’s record of voting “present” in the Illinois State Legislature, capping the attack with a comment about the decisive nature of executive power. “When you’re President of the United States, you can’t just vote ‘present,’” he observes. “You must make decisions.”

It’s a great line, one that has the virtue of being both powerful and true.

With one, you know, small exception: In the Senate, the body in which both Obama and his rival serve,
it’s McCain who has the worst vote-attendance record: he’s attended only 36.2 percent of votes, missing 407 since the start of the 110th Congress. In this, the Arizona senator holds the dubious distinction of besting Tim Johnson, the senator who was away from Washington for several months following a brain hemorrhage, and who clocks in at 51.3 percent attended.

Obama, though it’s still nothing for him to brag about, has a significantly better attendance record than McCain, with a 54.5 percent attendance record (290 votes missed).

So why would Giuliani bring Obama’s attendance record up in the first place, given the stones-to-glass-houses ratio of the attack? After all, McCain’s poor ranking—though low vote attendance, it should be noted, is common for senators who are also running for president—is well known fact (and, barring that, easily looked up). And though voting “present” and simply not showing up aren’t precisely the same, they’re certainly similar in spirit.

My guess is Giuliani’s assuming the members of the “liberal”/”elite”/”Ivy League”/”East Coast”/biased/mean/smelly media will be so focused on Palin’s speech that his voting record comment gets buried in the torrent of what-was-she-wearing and did-she-win-people-over and did-the-hockey-mom-thing-work, etc. And it’s a safe gamble, given the spirit of the evening.

But here’s hoping it doesn’t pay off. Because for all that we complain—rightly so—about the media preferring their own voices to those of the newsmakers they’re meant to cover when it comes to convention speeches, there’s one instance when their moderation is inarguably useful to voters. And that is when it can keep politicians’ claims in check and, in the process, set the record straight.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.