Now that both the Republican and Democratic national conventions are over, one key question remains: Which side has the best liars?
If America's two major political parties have anything in common, it's the ability to fold, twist and mutilate the facts of any given subject.
Almost every speaker at both national conventions did their utmost to uphold this ignoble tradition of American politics.
When the media called several GOP speakers on their political lies, a pollster for GOP candidate Mitt Romney, Neil Newhouse, responded with what may have been the most truthful words spoken by any political figure over the past two weeks:
"We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
The Democrats, of course, gleefully pointed this out at their national convention a few days later even while committing transgressions of their own.
Hypocrisy, thy name is politics.
Since the American voter deserves better in Election 2012, here's a more accurate look at some the truth-challenged rhetoric uttered by the people who want us to trust them with running the country:
Biggest Lies from This Year's National Conventions
Lies About Jobs
Let's start with the Republicans, since their national convention came first.
One popular number cited often at the GOP convention, including by actor Clint Eastwood, is that 23 million people are unemployed in America today.
Fact-checkers jumped all over Eastwood, noting that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says the number of unemployed is about 12.8 million.
The number that Eastwood and other Republicans cite includes that group plus 8.2 million people in part-time jobs who'd prefer full-time jobs, as well as about 2.5 million who want a job but haven't actively looked for one in the past four weeks.
The BLS defines this as the U-6 unemployment number, but uses the smaller U-3 category as its "official" unemployment figure.
So while technically Eastwood is wrong, many economic purists have argued for years that the official BLS is in fact misleading.
On the Democratic side, we have President Obama claiming he has overseen a net increase of 4.5 million private sector jobs.
Sounds pretty good. But a closer look reveals that the Democrats have fudged a bit by starting the clock at February 2010, the time frame most favorable to the Obama administration.
If you start the clock at January 2009, when President Obama took office, you get a net gain of just 332,000 private sector jobs. And tossing in the public sector (government jobs) leaves a net loss of 316,000 jobs.
Even if you accept the Democrats' timeline, however, you have the sticky issue of whether the jobs created are really helping the middle class recover from the Great Recession.
According to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project, mid-wage occupations (hourly wages that fall between $13.84 and $21.13) accounted for 60% of the recession job losses but just 22% of the gains.
Meanwhile, NELP said, low-wage jobs (hourly wages between $7.68 and $13.83) have accounted for 58% of the gains.
That means 58% of President Obama's 4.5 million jobs – 2.6 million – were low-wage, not the sort of jobs needed to bolster the American middle class.
Lies About the Middle Class
Both sides used mischaracterizations to demonize the other with respect to the middle class.
In his acceptance speech, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed that "this Obama economy has crushed the middle class." He said family income had dropped $4,000 a year, while the prices of gasoline, food, utilities and health insurance have risen.
For the $4,000 income loss, Romney is playing the same time frame game as the president.
The study from which he got his figure measured a period starting in December 2007 and ending in June 2012. The income drop is legit, but it's unclear how much of it occurred on President Obama's watch.
It is true that prices have risen over the past four years, but blaming the president is unfair – prices rise during almost all presidencies. The real question for a presidential election is the inflation rate, which thanks to the recession has been relatively tame.
And while gas prices have doubled, they were unusually low when the president took office. The reality is that the White House has little control over them anyway.
Democrats were just as tough on the GOP, with several speakers claiming Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class by $2,000 to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
They based their accusation on an analysis from the Tax Policy Center that concluded Romney's tax plan is mathematically impossible (that's what the Dems should have said). But the Democrats went a step further by making the assumption that Romney would close the gap with a middle class tax increase.
Romney himself has pledged on numerous occasions he would not raise taxes on the middle class. At worst, his plan lacks specifics on how he would achieve his goals without losing revenue or raising at least some taxes.
Lies About the Deficit
No article about lies at the national conventions would be complete without Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Among the many lies fact-checkers saw in Ryan's speech was a claim that President Obama ignored the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission, a body the president created.
"He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing," Ryan said.
The problem here is the phrase "exactly nothing." While President Obama did not fully adopt the Simpson-Bowles recommendations, he did recycle some of the ideas in a plan he sent to Congress the following spring.
Worse for Ryan, he served on that very same commission — and voted against adopting the recommendations. People who live in glass houses…
For his part, President Obama claimed in his acceptance speech that "experts" say his deficit-reduction plan will cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years.
Unfortunately, that number relies on budget trickery. About a quarter comes from "savings" from the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – both of which have been financed mostly with borrowed money.
"When you finish college, you don't suddenly have thousands of dollars a year to spend elsewhere. In fact, you have to find a way to pay back your loans," Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told FactCheck.org.
Another $1 trillion in the President Obama plan is savings from a deal made in the Budget Control Act, done as part of the agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer. Savings from that deal isn't new, but was already baked into the budget cake and should not have been counted as "new" savings.
Related Articles and News:
- Money Morning:
From Obamacare to Taxes: 5 Hot Topics Politicians Love to Lie About
- Money Morning:
Ugly August U.S. Jobs Report Made Romney's Day
- Money Morning:
What Investors Love About the Romney Tax Plan
- Annenberg Public Policy Center:
CNN Fact Check: The $2,000 question
CNN Fact Check: About those 4.5 million jobs …
Fact Check: Paul Ryan misleads on debt panel's spending cut plan