I don't know how many times I've heard from mainstream media reporters, bloggers, and even FactCheck.org that McCain's ad about Obama's support for sex ed for kindergarteners is an outright lie. According to the Obama campaign, the bill was intended to give information on how to avoid sexual predators and how to recognize inappropriate touching. The Obama line is that McCain is lying by making it out to be comprehensive sex ed. I sat and listened to a colleague Friday night launching into a diatribe about how evil McCain is for lying about this. I'd been hearing this, but I hadn't actually looked at it very carefully myself.
The bill is not mainly about sexual predators, which don't even come up until over halfway through the bill. It is about contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. It mandates discussion of abstinence. How do you talk about contraception, methods of preventing STDs, and abstaining from sex without talking about sex in a way that's much more significant than simply coaching kids to recognize inappropriate touching?
Now the McCain ad does wrongly say that this is Obama's only legislative accomplishment. He wasn't a sponsor of this, and there are a couple bills that he does have his name on as a sponsor. The bill also does say, as Obama has been pointing out, that parents could opt their kids out and that it would be age-appropriate sex ed. However, it's clear from the bill that what's mandated will be a pretty comprehensive curriculum, and it's hard for me to see how that would be age-appropriate for kindergarteners by my standards of what's age-appropriate, which makes such a condition pretty inadequate. Simply specifying that it be age-appropriate accomplishes little more than allowing people who think the bill's mandate is age-appropriate to do what the bill mandates. It doesn't seem to me that it's at all inaccurate to call it comprehensive sex ed for kindergarteners, certainly not to the level of the outright lie that so many people, including the supposedly-neutral mainstream media and the supposedly non-partisan FactCheck.org, are talking about. What they keep saying is that the bill doesn't require the very thing that its language seems to me to plainly require.
Byron York has an excellent piece that summarizes a lot of this but also includes statements by the sponsors of the bill at the time and one statement by the only sponsor of the bill who would even talk with him. From what he can gather, it does seem that inappropriate touching, while one concern, was not one of the major reasons for the bill. It's possible that Obama was voting for the bill because he thought one tiny element of it was a good idea and that he disagreed with the rest of it. If you accept his story and his claim that he doesn't support what the bill turns out to mandate, then that would have to be what he was doing. So why would he vote for the bill, then, if it turns out to be mainly intended to do something he disagrees with? I was accepting the Obama line on this simply because so many people were repeating it, including FactCheck.org. But it turns out, on closer examination, that the major claim made in the ad is pretty much true, and it's Obama's story about it that seems to be false.