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Political conventions end with the truth a casualty

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012, at 10:51 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Sep. 7, 2012, at 6:35 a.m.

— Get ready for 60 more days of half-truths, misstatements, overstatements and sometimes flat-out fibs leading to Election Day.

In a back-to-back preview of what’s to come, Democrats stretched the truth at their national convention in Charlotte this week, just as Republicans did at their gathering last week in Tampa, Fla.

There’s little that can stop it. If Democrats and Republicans don’t have much in common politically these days, they do share an open disdain for truth-squad results that don’t go their way.

Republicans and conservatives, riled by blistering assessments of the veracity of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s convention speech, howled that media fact-checkers are nothing more than liberal toadies of the Democratic Party.

Democrats also have waged war on fact-checkers. President Obama’s campaign complained to the independent group FactCheck.org after it said Obama unfairly blamed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for the actions of Bain Capital, the company Romney co-founded, after he left the business in 1998.

“We have blowback from everyone we critique,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, which oversees FactCheck.org. “It’s business as usual and we just accept it.”

At the Democratic convention, several speakers took liberties with facts, from claims about Romney’s tenure as the governor of Massachusetts to the effect of Republican plans for Medicare and Pell Grants.

Here’s a look at the rhetoric and the reality:

Firing people

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell told conventioneers that “Mitt Romney says he likes to fire people.” He and other Democrats took Romney’s comment out of context.

Speaking about health insurance in a speech to the Nashua, N.H., Chamber of Commerce last January, Romney said he wanted individuals to have control over their health insurance because it made insurance companies perform better to compete for business.

“That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy,” he said. “It also means if you don’t like what they do, you fire them,” he added. “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.”

Vulgar attacks on women

Sandra Fluke, a lawyer and advocate for free health coverage of contraceptives, took a shot at Romney, telling the convention, “Your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs.” She was referring to conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh calling her a slut last winter.

The impression Fluke conveyed about Romney wasn’t the whole picture. When he was asked about Limbaugh’s caustic comment, Romney said, “It’s not the language I would have used.”

Fluke didn’t mention that the man she supports hasn’t spoken out when high-profile liberals have made vulgar comments about women.

Obama didn’t publicly criticize late night talk-show host David Letterman when he made several off-color comments about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2009, saying Palin had a “slutty flight attendant look.” The president and first lady Michelle Obama have appeared on Letterman’s CBS show several times since his Palin remark.

Nor did the president respond when cable television comedian Bill Maher, who’s contributed $1 million to a pro-Obama political group, referred to Palin with a genital vulgarity.

Cutting spending

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro charged Tuesday night that the election was a choice “between a nation that slashes funding for our schools and guts Pell Grants, or a nation that invests more in education.” Pell Grants help lower-income students.

Ryan’s fiscal 2013 budget plan doesn’t gut the grants, though. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who’s the chairman of the House Budget Committee, would limit the growth of financial aid and target it to lower-income students. He also would have federal aid to higher education focus not only on help with funding, but also on “policies that maximize innovation and ensure a robust menu of institutional options from which students and their families are able to choose.”

Medicare

Several Democratic speakers asserted that seniors would end up paying more under Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare.

“What’s missing from the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare is Medicare,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “Instead of the Medicare guarantee, Republicans would give seniors a voucher that limits what is covered, costing seniors as much as $6,400 more a year.”

The current Ryan proposal would give anyone who turns 65 after 2023 a choice of buying private coverage or traditional Medicare. They’d receive federal help with the premiums.

Trying to discern the effect on costs, though, is nearly impossible, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said earlier this year. It would say only that “beneficiaries might face higher costs,” without being specific.

Jobs

Touting Obama’s handling of the economy, Castro said, “Despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition, our president took action, and now we’ve seen 4.5 million new jobs.”

The mayor was statistically correct but misleading. Castro cited only private-sector jobs, which were doing better than government jobs, culled from February 2010 data as a starting point, according to FactCheck.org. There were 106,773,000 jobs back then and the number has increased ever since.

But calculate from the 2009 start of Obama’s presidency and the most recently reported job figures, and there’s a net increase of only 332,000 jobs, FactCheck.org reported. Factor in all jobs — government and private sector — and there’s a net decrease of 316,000.

As a result, total employment has gained 4 million jobs since February 2010, FactCheck.org said, not the 4.5 million Castro touted.

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