Pre-surge levels

PRE-SURGE LEVELS…. If you’ve been watching the campaign for a while, you may recall back in May, when John McCain announced his belief that U.S. troops in Iraq “have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” McCain, of course, was wrong, and took a fair amount of heat from the Obama campaign for the error. When pressed, instead of simply acknowledging the mistake, the McCain campaign insisted the senator was right, just so long as we overlook “the tense of the verb.”

Sarah Palin probably wasn’t following the race closely at the time — other than, of course, reading “all” newspapers — because in last night’s debate, she made the exact same mistake: “[W]ith the surge that has worked we’re now down to pre-surge numbers in Iraq.”

Fox News’ Carl Cameron sat down with Palin this morning and asked about her obvious error. Cameron told viewers that Palin “did not apologize, nor did she retract her assertion that U.S. forces in Iraq are at pre-surge levels.”

And that continues to be what separates the McCain/Palin campaign from every other campaign I can think of. Most of the time, when confronted with an error, a candidate will say he or she misspoke and then pivot to the larger point. Not these guys. Palin, confronted with an error, apparently believes, “I’ve decided I like my version of reality better, truth be damned.”

This isn’t a trick question. Indeed, it’s just arithmetic. Just before the surge policy was implemented, there were 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. As of September 2008, the number was 146,000. Even for Sarah Palin, 146,000 is not less than 132,000.

Bush did recently announce that by February 2009, an additional 8,000 U.S. troops would leave Iraq, but I’m afraid that doesn’t help Palin’s case — 146,000 minus 8,000 equals 138,000. And, you guessed it, 138,000 is still not less than 132,000.

Note to Palin: just acknowledge when you make a mistake. It’ll be embarrassing for a little while, but it’s what grown-ups do.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.