Department of False Equivalences
Politifact.com, the political fact checking organization, has released its list of nominations for their annual ‘Lie of the Year” award, and wouldn’t you know it, of the ten nominees, five lie on the Republican side of the political divide and five lie on the Democratic side. The list is getting plenty of attention from bloggers for many different reasons, but primarily for the award’s rather tendentious implication that Democrats lie just as often and blatantly as Republicans (why else nominate five statements from either side of the political divide?).
A look at the nominees is instructive, nonetheless, because try as Politifact might to seem “impartial” by offering up “lies” that will appeal to supporters of both major political parties, an examination of the statements in question shows a clear, qualitative distinction between claims that are at least “arguable” on the Democratic side, and claims that are flat out “the moon is made of cheese” level lies from the GOP. Politifact niminates the following 10 staments for its “Lie of the Year 2011”
1) Mitt Romney’s claim that Barack Obama mounted a global “apology tour” to beg other nations’ forgiveness for our imperial crimes.
2) Barack Obama’s claim to have mounted an “unprecedented” effort to eliminate bad business regulations.
3) Michelle Bachmann’s claim that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.
4) The claim by many prominent Democrats and Democratic organizatoins that Republicans voted to end Medicare.
5) Arizona Republican Senator John Kyl’s claim that 90% of What Planned Parenthood does involves abortion services.
6) Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz’s contention that Republicans are seeking to revive “Jim Crow” through the enactment of ever more stringent voter ID requirements.
7) Rick Perry’s claim that more and more scientists are beginning to doubt global warming.
8) A claim, popular on Facebook and derived from a Daily Kos blogger that Republicans had introduced no bills to increase employment.
9) The NRC’s contention that President Obama’s stimulus program created no jobs.
10) Barack Obama’s claim that he didn’t raise taxes.
Examining these claims, one immediately notes a qualitative difference in the sorts of statements that are being labelled “lies” by Politifact. Let us examine them more closely.
I’ll begin by dispensing with #8 on the list. If nothing else, the fact that Politifact felt the need to select from claims made in a post by a largely unknown Daily Kos blogger to add to its list surely hints at the difficulty the organization faced in coming up with a “balanced” list. Imagine how broad and absurd the GOP side of the list would be had Politifact decided to include even a day’s worth of stories run on World Net Daily.
Let’s look at the rest, one by one:
#1: Romney’s characterization of the speeches that Barack Obama has given while abroad is simply absurd. It’s a standard line at his campaign speeches that is backed up by no actual facts. Hard to argue against this one being a lie.
#2: While Poilitifact does not question the fact that Barack Obama ordered a review of harmful business regulations, the fact checking organization latches on to the presidnt’s claim that this review was “unprecedented” to label the statement a “lie.” In supporting it’s claim, Politifact notes that Bill Clinton ordered a similar review. I think most people would agree that this is nitpicky at best, and hardly qualifies for “lie of the year.” But hey… gotta have some Presidential representation, don’t we?
#3: The HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. I think Stephen Colbert characterized this statement best when he noted that Bachmann learned of the HPV Vaccine/mental retardation link from the “New England Journal of some lady I just met.” Is this one a lie? I guess that depends on whether Michelle Bachmann is insane (and, thus, incapable of lying in the traditional sense) or just a world-class demagogue. I’m torn.
#4: The claim that in voting for a bill that sought to implement Paul Ryan’s “premium support” medical reform plan Republicans were voting to “end Medicare” is most definitely the item on the list that has gotten the most attention from bloggers. The Ryan plan ends the Federal government’s direct payments to health care providers, in effect taking the government out of the health insurance business. Instead seniors are offered a subsidy to buy private medical insurance. This subsidy by itself will not be enough to purchase a plan, and seniors will need to add their own dollars if they want to be insured. Republicans are calling this program “Medicare.” Democrats are saying that it eliminated the Medicare program while simply grafting the name “Medicare” onto a subtantially different health care model that does not deserve the name. Now there is an argument here, for sure, but to simply label the Democratic position a “lie” is to take sides in the debate, not to judge the truthfulness of the statement itself.
#5: Kyl’s claim that Planned Parenthood is 90% about abortion was a lie. He even admitted it was a lie. The End.
#6: Wasserman Schultz claim that Republicans are dragging the country back to Jim Crow may be an exaggeration, but there’s little denying that the GOP is promoting laws around the country that effectively disenfranchise many people who should, by all rights, be able to vote. Lie fo the year? That’s at best debatable.
#7: Rick Perry’s claim that scientists are more and more starting to doubt global warming. This is a claim that mirrors Creationist claims that scientists, in greater and greater numbers, are starting to doubt Darwin’s theory of Evolution. In seeking to create an impression of doubt where there is, in fact, strong scientific consensus this claim is clearly a mistruth (even if the Oil Industry does pay ever more thinly credentialled “scientists” to publicly express doubts.) And when one considers the stakes to humanity of general acceptance of this widely repeated lie, one scratches one’s head at the fact that it is competing with President Obama’s claim that his review of regulations is “unprecedented” for lie of the year. Let’s face it: lying about anthropogenic climate change should be the lie of the year, every year, until we actually get off our collective asses and do something substantive to curb carbon emmissions.
#8: I know I’ve dispensed with this one already, but… seriously? A third tier blogger? And somehow this claim was more deserving of outrage than any one of the many World Net Daily stories claiming that Obama was staffing his administration with Muslim Brotherhood supporters?
#9: With all the outright misrepresentations and mischaracterizations of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it’s hard to know which to nominate for “Lie of the Year.” Take, for instance, the oft repeated claim that the stimulus cost $1 trillion dollars. In fact, it ran $787 billion…. but hey… what’s $213 billion among friends? The oft repeated claim that the stimulus actually hurt the economic recovery is also a howler. Care to provide an economic model under which the government injecting money into the economy actually slows economic growth?There’s a lot to choose from. Basically, any time a Republican starts a sentence off with “The Obama stimulus…” you can basically chalk up everything else that follows into the “bald faced lie” column. So the claim that the stimulus created no jobs is just as good as any other candidate.
#10: The claim that President Obama didn’t raise taxes, when in fact, he raised tobacco taxes and imposed a surtax on wealthy Americans to help pay for the Health Care Reform Act. Yeah, it’s true that the tax burden on the average American has gone down under Obama. Yeah it’s true than when one speaks of a president having raised or lowered taxes, most people are thinking about income taxes, which Obama, did in fact lower. Yeah, President Obama could probably have been more careful in the cited interview in noting that he was speaking merely of income taxes. Politifact decided to split the President’s claim in two, probably so that they could tag the President with a “pants on fire” rather than a “half-true.” So, OK, I think Obama was just being a little careless. You think he was consciously lying, the way Republicans lie about Global Warming or the cost of the Stimulus. I guess we’re each entitled to our own opinions.
So there you have it, another gleaming exhibit in the mountainous pile of journalistic false equivalencies that have allowed the GOP to escape any seroius consequences for their outrageous, serial mendacity because… hey… all politicians lie.