Friday, September 12, 2008

Lies, damn lies & elections

THERE'S AN OLD saying that the truth is the first casualty of war.

Well, if that's true, then the 2008 presidential race must be World War III.

Phony Internet rumors, a candidate who was for a "Bridge to Nowhere" before she was against it, and some vicious TV ads with dubious claims — and we're only a week into the traditional fall campaign.

The rampant truth-stretching and smear campaigns have already dashed hopes that one of the most notable White House races in American history — pitting the would-be first African-American president against an ex-POW war hero — would also be one of the most honorable.

Here's a look at the volley of accusations. While distortions can and do occur on both sides, not all political lies are created equal, which is why we're awarding lipstick-pigs, one for a mild whopper and four for a big one, to the various half-and un-truths out there:

"Bridge to Nowhere." When John McCain shook up the race by picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a key selling point was that she was "a maverick" who had acted to kill the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," a massive bridge connecting Ketchikan, Alaska, to its airport on sparsely populated Gravina Island, costing federal taxpayers $223 million. She told the Republican convention: "I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere."

Except that she had aggressively supported the bridge project when she was a candidate for governor in 2006, only killing the plan a year later when it became a national political hot potato for the GOP. And the money wasn't returned to the American taxpayers; she kept it for related road projects.

Lie rating: 3 lipstick-pigs.

The middle-class multimillionaire: Democrats were already working to portray the Republicans as the party of the rich when some felt McCain handed them a gift at August's Rick Warren values forum, when he seemed to say you weren't rich until you earned a whopping $5 million. Barack Obama got big applause at Denver's Invesco Field when he asked why the GOP standard-bearer would "define middle-class as someone making under $5 million a year."

Except that McCain was clearly joking when he made the remark. How can you tell? Well, for one thing, the audience laughed, and for another thing, McCain said when the yuks died down, "But seriously...." Obama isn't exactly known for his own sense of humor, but he should know a joke when he hears one.

Lie rating: 3 lipstick-pigs.

Special-needs funding: No candidate has burst onto the scene like Palin, and with so much that's being said about her, some of it is blatantly not true. Much of the false gossip has come from that underbelly of political talk, anonymous Internet posters and e-mails, but a couple untruths have been picked up and spread by bigwigs who should know better.

This week, CNN had to correct an on-air comment from a Democratic surrogate, Huffington Post political director Hillary Rosen, who said Palin — whose infant son has Down syndrome -- cut funding for special needs education in Alaska. But she didn't — she increased it, and Rosen was quoting from an Internet poster who misinterpreted raw budget data. Lie rating: 3 lipstick-pigs.

The sex-ed ad: While lies about Palin were coming from the bottom-down of the Internet, highly dubious claims about Obama were coming from the brain trust of the McCain campaign; especially with an ad that accused Obama of successfully backing sex education for kindergartners and wanting kids "learning about sex before learning to read."

The claim sent off lie meters around the country (PolitiFact called it "an absurd claim about a bill that never passed.") The bill in the Illinois state senate, which Obama voted for in committee but didn't pass, would have made it OK for younger schoolchildren to learn about predators and other age appropriate info. This ad is grade-A bacon.

Lie rating: 4 lipstick-pigs.

eBay to nowhere: One of Palin's biggest applause lines in St. Paul came when she discussed the fate of a state airplane that had become a symbol of government waste in Alaska. Declared the vice presidential nominee: "I put it on eBay."

It all depends on what you're definition of the word "put" is; the plane didn't sell through the online auction system and instead was sold through a conventional broker for less money than the state was seeking. That didn't stop McCain from telling a subsequent rally that Palin "sold" the plane on eBay.

Lie rating: 2 lipstick-pigs.

Banning books: Another Internet whopper regarding Palin is a widely circulated list of books that she supposed had banned from the town library of Wasilla, Alaska, shortly after she was elected mayor in 1996. The long list even includes Harry Potter books that hadn't been written yet.

No, Palin is not a psychic — the list is bogus. Palin never ordered any specific books banned in Wasilla, according to numerous news accounts, although it was reported in local media at the time that she did ask the librarian, whom she unsuccessfully sought to fire, what the general policy was on removing books. Lie rating: 2 lipstick-pigs.

Loophole loophole: Obama's speech in Denver was his first chance to lay out his policy plans for a broad audience, and one of his claims was that he would "pay for every dime" of his economic plan "by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens."

But impartial observers like Philadelphia-based Factcheck. org say the Obama statement was "wrong" on two counts. For one thing, a key part of his plan for closing the budget gap would be a higher tax rate on the wealthiest Americans such as families earning more than $250,000. Also, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that Obama's plan won't have "every dime" paid for and that it will increase the national debt, albeit not as much as McCain's plan.

Lie rating: 2 lipstick-pigs.

A taxing tale: A number of speakers at the Republican convention echoed a McCain TV ad that accused the Democratic standard-bearer of planning "painful tax increases on working American families."

As noted above, that's only true if their work brings in more than $250,000 for a family; Obama's tax proposal would also cut levies for more than 80 percent of American families, it has been estimated.

Lie rating: 2 lipstick-pigs.

Fact-check falsehoods: This week, the McCain campaign released an ad claiming that found that the Obama campaign was making attacks on Palin that were "completely false" or "misleading."

In one of many surreal moments of this campaign, that forced to come out with a new report flagging the McCain campaign for misquoting The actual statements involved Internet rumors about the Alaska governor, and had nothing to do with the Obama campaign.

Lie rating: 3 lipstick-pigs.

Fuzzy math: Here's another economic claim that Obama made in Denver, when he said that when Bill Clinton was president, "the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush."

PolitiFact labels this statement as "half-true" because the numbers don't exactly add up; the Clinton number includes retirees while the Bush number does not. But the overall trend is correct; average income did decline under the current president.

Lie rating: 1 lipstick-pig. *

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