Pity the poor American voter, sincerely trying to sort out the issues in the wacky presidential campaign. The record thus far suggests that too much of the overblown rhetoric on the campaign trail is not only so much hot air, but — to put it politely — at variance with the truth.
There’s nothing unusual about candidates telling stretchers occasionally, as when John F. Kennedy won votes by scaring voters in 1960 with dire warnings of an alleged “missile gap” with the Soviets. When the truth emerged, it turned out the gap was fictional. By then, JFK was president.
What’s new today is how often candidates resort to saying things that are not true. Facts and the historical record don’t matter. This seems to have become the default position for candidates racing around the country, uttering false or misleading statements without apology or shame.
Today, JFK’s “missile gap” might have been declared “False” or “Pants on Fire,” by PolitiFact, which has become an indispensable resource for anyone trying to keep track of all the whoppers.
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On this score, Donald Trump is in a class by himself. His claim about building an impenetrable wall on our southern border is pure fantasy. But he’s gotten the numbers laughably wrong, too. His claim that there are “30 million, it could be 34 million” illegal immigrants in this country was rated “Pants on Fire” by PolitiFact. A closer tally would be 11 million.
Problem is, it’s not only demagogues like Mr. Trump seemingly saying whatever suits them at the moment, but so-called serious candidates, as well. Among them are Democratic frontrunner (for now) Hillary Clinton and Florida’s two favorite sons, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.
Mr. Rubio, for example, is no fan of business regulation and the Dodd-Frank reform law that emerged from the Great Recession. But his claim that, “Over 40 percent of small and mid-size banks that loan money to small businesses have been wiped out since Dodd-Frank has passed” was rated mostly false. So were his national-security claims that the United States “is not modernizing its nuclear weapons” and “not building the aircraft, the long-range bombers, the additional aircraft carriers, the nuclear submarines.”
Gov. Bush also has been called out repeatedly by PolitiFact. It is one thing for him to say that he does not support Planned Parenthood because it provides more abortions than any other organization, but quite another — and just plain wrong — to say that Planned Parenthood is not dealing with women’s health issues, a claim rated “Pants on fire” false.
As for Ms. Clinton, she claimed that Mr. Bush and Mr. Trump don’t differ on immigration issues, a clear distortion rated “Mostly Wrong.” And she said none of the GOP candidates had addressed education funding — even after Sen. Rubio made his plan a focus of his pitch to young voters.
This is just a tiny sampling of the many exaggerations, errors of fact and outright lies by the candidates on the campaign trail. Ms. Clinton, Sen. Rubio and Mr. Bush —and all the others —should know better. They have also made claims that sounded fanciful but were rated truthful by PolitiFact, and all three have strong records that they can proudly tout, as well as thoughtful positions on a variety of issues.
Yet so often they can’t seem to avoid the temptation to stray from reality. It’s a disservice to their constituents, to the voters and to the electoral system. Stick to the truth. Honestly, it is the best policy.