Lies in Politics

Some version or another of this chart has been making the rounds on facebook:

It is a summary from Politifact of the truthfulness of statements made by several prominent US politicians leading into the 2016 presidential election. Each of the politicians has made at least 50 statements rated by Politifact but, to be clear, this chart represents the rating of ALL of each politician's statements, not the ratings of just a cherry picked 50 statements.

This chart isn't perfect. For one thing, its data comes from Politifact, which claims to be independent but is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which traditionally has a left-leaning bias. However, factcheck.org (an independent non-profit) largely agrees with these ratings and my own digging indicates that they're pretty legitimate.

One striking takeaway is that the current Republican nominee for President is at the top of the list for telling half truths, misrepresentations of information, and outright lies. Can that really be so?

Let's take a look at statements recently made by the Republican nominee and the GOP alleging that the DNC email leak is proof of rampant racism in the DNC. The statements call out three specific emails; let's examine each in turn:

1. ALLEGATION: The DNC refers to its strategy for Latino voters as "Taco Bowl Engagement."
EMAIL: "Attached is a script for a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement, and demonstrate the Trump actually isn’t trying."
It is pretty clear that the email is referring to the Republican nominee's own "taco bowl" tweet, not referring to Latino voters as such.

2. ALLEGATION: The DNC mocked a black woman's name (LaQueenia Gibson).
EMAIL: "LaQueenia is a NAME!
I'm sorry, boo. I hope you got a raise with this title."
The first sentence seems to be impressed with the regal name, not to be mocking it, and the second sentence has nothing to do with the name; it is in response to the previous email about frustration with endless meetings and calls to organize an event. Even if it were a racist email, the author doesn't even work at the DNC.

3. ALLEGATION: The DNC made anti-Semitic remarks about Bernie Sanders.
EMAIL: "It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist. "
I don't see anything anti-Jewish here; the author is pointing out that the religious segment will prefer someone with religion - even if it isn't their religion - to someone who doesn't believe in God at all.

CONCLUSION: While the DNC emails do show some pretty despicable actions to thwart the democratic process, they do not show rampant racism, as the right wing media has claimed.

It is especially worrying that the representation of these quotes has been deliberately provided out of context so as to make them seem racist; I'm sure the vast majority of readers are taking the articles at face value and not reading the original emails themselves.

If facebook is any evidence, today we spend much of our time in echo chambers, surrounded by people and news sources that affirm our already held beliefs. That is why it is more important than ever that we exercise critical thinking, about which I have written before.

It makes sense that the Republican nominee should be hyperbolic and contrarian; he is challenging the status quo so he needs to convince people that the status quo is bad. No one (in my lifetime) did this more masterfully than Bill Clinton, who somehow convinced American voters that it was "Time For a Change" despite George H. W. Bush's record presidential approval ratings, winning the first Persian Gulf War decisively, a healthy economy, etc. Still, the need to be hyperbolic and contrarian is not license to lie to voters.

As I spend more and more of my time debunking fallacious and misleading political claims these days, I will try to include some of the more significant analyses on this blog. As an ardent Independent voter with a 50/50 Republican/Democrat presidential voting record, I don't have a vested interest in hammering any particular party or candidate. After all, the other takeaway from the above chart is that all candidates are lying to us at least somewhat and that is simply disgraceful; America deserves better.

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