The Truth About Our Next President

The First Amendment is the most fundamental and beautiful pillar of our democracy. I love it more than corned beef.  I love it more than "Breaking Bad." I love it more than Nexium.

And every two years I hate it. I hate it more than sloe gin. I hate it more than "The Bachelorette." I hate it more than the Yankees. Because of the near absolute freedom of political speech, politicians are free to fill the airwaves with lies. Some are trivial, some are shocking, but they are the currency of modern politics. In advertising and in person, virtually all candidates -- regardless of party -- abuse our most sacred right in order to smear their opponents with blatant mischaracterizations of their records, their statements and their motivations.

For the past two months, residents of Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Nevada have been inundated with countless slimy assertions by the Obama and Romney campaigns and their SuperPAC proxies. And residents of all 50 states have gotten the same treatment in 460 Congressional races, not to mention governorships and hundreds of down-ticket battles. If you spend any time on the Web sites of PolitiFact.com or FactCheck.org -- and you should -- prepare to be nauseated.

If you look at the most recent 44 claims evaluated at PolitiFact, 15 are rated as true or mostly true, 19 are judged false or mostly false. Another is so brazenly false it is given the “pants on fire” rating. The remaining 9 are deemed “half true.”

Another word for half-truth? Lie. Because what is left out of a half truth is further information or context that negate the nominal facts of the claim. For instance, without straying from the facts, you could say that the Manson Family was an energetic group of volunteers dedicated to reducing population growth.

It’s particularly easy to assemble little facts in service of a big lie by artfully cherrypicking legislative votes. In such a way, voting for an omnibus budget bill that has an amendment tacked on calling for, say, a tax credit for vineyards can be twisted into: “He voted to subsidize the alcoholic beverages industry.” If you count all the procedural votes before final passage, you can say: “He voted 8 times to subsidize the alcoholic beverages industry.”

Another trick is to pluck economic statistic out of context to mischaracterize your successes or your opponent's failures. In the current campaign, hardly a statistic that either candidate has uttered about the economy can be taken at face value. (For a good summation of what face value is, look at this neutral but enlightening analysis of key economic metrics under the Obama administration.) The way the numbers have been distorted by the candidates and their SuperPACs is simply breathtaking.

According to measurements by the fact checkers, the Mitt Romney campaign has significantly outlied the Obama campaign -- by a 5:1 ratio, according to PolitiFact’s tally. On the other hand, supporters of the president can claim the most heinous smear of the campaign: a Priorities USA ad featuring former steelworker Joe Soptic, who lays responsibility for his wife’s cancer death at the feet of Mitt Romney. Soptic speaks of losing his family health insurance when Romney’s Bain Capital shut down his steel mill.

“And a short time after that my wife became ill,” he recounts. “I don’t know how long she was sick, and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia. And that’s when they found the cancer, and by then it was stage four. It was -- there was nothing they could do for her.”

What the ad doesn’t reveal is that his late wife did have health insurance from her own job when Soptic was laid off. Or that she had health insurance on her next job. Or that her diagnosis came in 2006, five years after the plant closing. Or that in 1991, Romney was running the Salt Lake City Olympics, not running Bain Capital day to day (or, according to him, at all). Yet, Soptic’s conclusion is this:

“I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone, and furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”

Ah, so he’s a remorseless murderer. President Obama has nine weeks to disavow this ad. He has declined to do so. That’s what they mean by free speech. You are free to abuse it in the most vile ways.

Whoever wins the presidency of the United States may or may not well serve the nation. He may or may not fulfill campaign promises. He may or may not succeed in reducing long-term debt and stimulating the economy. But one thing you can be certain of:

Whichever man is elected next month is a liar.

 

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15 comments about "The Truth About Our Next President".
  1. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , October 22, 2012 at 11:42 a.m.
    We should all become more sophisticated about facts after this election - because fact checking has serious limitations. For example, Mitt Romney makes his "six studies" lie central to every campaign event. And, refuses to back away from it. The clear communication implication of "six studies" is that they are rigorous. They are Anyang but. Yet in fact checking world, Romneys campaign leverages the wiggle room that there are six articles to avoid a "liar liar" rating. In any sense of reality, no matter how one plans to vote, how can that be merely "mostly false"? Especially given its centrality to the campaign. (And I pick this one merely because it is clear. There are similar for all sides.) So maybe 2012 is when we learn that fact checking is of limited value.
  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , October 22, 2012 at 11:47 a.m.
    Having lived through the Watergate Hearings, it will be fun for me to watch the post-election Benghazi Hearings, assuming Obama wins, investigating what the President knew and when did he know it. All the other lies seem minor.
  3. Zachary Cochran from CPXi , October 22, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.
    Scathing—and true?! Thanks for pointing out resources, enabling us to check the facts for ourselves.
  4. Jeff Loman from MultiAd Kwikee , October 22, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.
    Bob: As frustrating as this is, please show me an online ad (especially), or a TV or radio ad that isn't blatantly false (at worst), or misleading (at best). Even on mainstream websites such as ESPN and Weather Channel, these ads are an insult. This isn't a new phenomenon. Go way back to the 60's with the Stridex Medicated Pads live commercial where the girl is asked to wash her face with soap, then use a "pad" to wipe the "same" area and, voila, the pad is dirty, thereby "showing" that it cleans areas that soap can't reach. Bull! A bigger problem is that consumers, having been burned at one time or another, just won't listen to any message on any media without a wary eye.
  5. John Casey from Carmichael Industries , October 22, 2012 at 12:01 p.m.
    Both sides certainly twist the truth into lies. Though, it wasn't Mitt that was endorsed by commie leaders: Castro, Chavez, & former KGB Putin. Benghazi-gate dwarfs the Watergate Hearings and Lewinsky-gate. Four Americans died and the story was perpetuated by the administration that it was a YouTube video that caused (even if, how pathetic a justification) the attack and not that it was a planned terrorist attack on 9/11.
  6. Brian Stemmler from Stemmler Productions , October 22, 2012 at 12:16 p.m.
    Bob, why did you end your article with that last line? That seems unnecessary. I'm greatly concerned that the amount of mudslinging will continue to encourage voters to tune out and not participate in the election process. Your editorial here, rather than shedding light on the source of the problem is just adding to the cynicism about the whole thing. I'm not a journalist, nor a political analyst, nor an editorialist...but I can say for certain that the Citizens United case and the rise of Political PAC's has had a huge effect on the amount of untruths in the political ads being disseminated. Did you analyze which ads that were untrue came directly from the candidates vs from political PACS? Why not go into greater depth into our media culture, which is being driven toward more histrionics and less journalistic integrity? My belief is that both Mitt Romney and President Obama, if they could, would choose to a clean campaign. They are not the source of the problem. The problem is what the wise Stephen Colbert has termed "Truthiness" that has infiltrated our culture. And now it has even infected the top men on the ticket. I think that is a better subject to investigate. Please consider it for your next post.
  7. Rick Monihan from None , October 22, 2012 at 12:47 p.m.
    Politics has been, is, and will be always about a form of lying. That form, and your ability to accept it, will usually be determined by which party you align with, OR be determined by how well you understand the issues. It is for this reason I rarely count politicians among my favorite or inspiring people. They are not worthy. Their job is to convince you, me and the other person to vote for them because we "kind've like the guy". Basically, most elections are popularity contests, just like they were in high school. If we were all to honestly look at both candidates, there is much in both campaigns to make us sick to our stomachs. In the end, I typically will support whichever campaign least resembles a machine - machine politics are designed to create a dependent relationship between the electorate and the politician or the party. This dependency is important, because it assures voters will continually vote one way or another, consistent with how the machine is 'caring' for the electorate. Since I will always pay out far more than I will ever get back in taxes, there is little either candidate can offer which will sway me, financially speaking. I do feel, however, that politicians anthropomorphize the collective "we" in order to make it seem as if we all have something in common with "them". We don't. I don't care that Romney is richer than Obama by many multiples. Obama is still many multiples richer than me, so by my reckoning, they both don't care about any of us based on their wealth. I also don't care that Obama wants to give me 'free' healthcare. There's no such thing as 'free', last I looked, and frankly most people in the US need to take better care of themselves and no 'free' anything will help them take care of themselves better. By the same token, Romney will undoubtedly extend deficits further, and claim it's fine because "we're borrowing from ourselves". Since there is no collective "we" from which "we borrow from ourselves", it's essential akin to saying "go ahead and steal what you want, because 'we' are only stealing from ourselves." There is no logic to politics, there is nothing practical. But more importantly THERE ARE NO SOLUTIONS. This is important. In Economics we learn there are trade-offs, not solutions, and we must learn to decide which trade-offs are worth making in order to improve our lives. Politicians push solutions, when they should be pushing trade-offs. But you can convince somebody to vote for something when they are giving up something else, can you? In the end, lies are really just a matter of what you're willing to give up. And this is why politics and politicians offer lousy solutions for economic problems.
  8. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , October 22, 2012 at 1:13 p.m.
    A simple Google search reveals a press conference where President Obama disassociated himself from the Priorities USA ad:

    http://www.mediaite.com/tv/obama-on-priorities-usa-ad-i-dont-believe-romneys-responsible-for-death-of-woman/

    But despite the 5:1 Romney ratio of lies (and imagine if we added in Paul Ryan, too!), there needed to be some compensation to make this article look "balanced," I guess. So a SuperPAC that supports Obama gets nearly half the column's attention, even though it only ran a few times, didn't get all that much traction and is still only in the public consciousness because the media keeps bringing it up.

  9. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. , October 22, 2012 at 5:51 p.m.
    I did this: My local Gannett paper has been running a Gannett feature that is a little daily fact-check of things one or the other campaign said. I sent Gannett a thank-you note for creating it and running it. They didn't respond, but if we want more of that kind of thing from media, they need to know we want and appreciate it.
  10. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , October 22, 2012 at 5:52 p.m.
    Wonder what would happen if we turned fact check loose on most brand marketing? There's a superb Consumer Reports book with samples of the absurdly false things done by the big brands... Like when "New Formulation" means "We took out a bunch of the stuff that works".
  11. Khalid Low from Reindeer Company , October 22, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.
    Whoa! How did this suddenly turn into a partisan argument? Tomorrow Mitt could be endorsed by the monarchy of Saudi Arabia or the juntas at Myanmar or even the Scandinavian Socialists; what then will your point be John Casey?
  12. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. , October 29, 2012 at 11:09 a.m.
    In light of the link cited by Thomas Siebert, are you ready to revise some of your statements about Barack Obama, Bob?
  13. Bob Garfield from MediaPost , October 29, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.
    Tim, Not unless Tom's dictionary has a different defintion for "disavow" than mine. Not one single persona affiliated with the campaign demanded that Priorities take down the ad. The president's statement is the same non-denial denial Romney uses when he says "I belief the president was born in America" -- as if it were a mattter of "belief." Bob
  14. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , October 29, 2012 at 4:29 p.m.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disavow

    Disavow (verb) - 1: to deny responsibility for: repudiate. 2: to refuse to acknowledge or accept : disclaim

    Perhaps Bob is looking for a different word? The President clearly disavows the ad. Blaming him for it is incorrect, as is claiming he is responsible for "the most heinous" ad of the campaign.

  15. Gene Keenan from TCF , October 29, 2012 at 8:19 p.m.
    Perhaps lying has become an accepted part of our culture? Let me relate this to advertising; few food products for example match what is shown in the ads. Tell me when was the last time ANY FAST FOOD served ever came remotely close to what was in the ad? I can answer that for you: NEVER. Unless of course the food stylist produced it for you personally... Doesn't mean the product is bad just the people selling it are not being truthful.