Change we can (almost) believe in

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October 21, 2008

4:53 PM

I am a strong supporter of the Barack Obama campaign. His policy proposals to remedy healthcare, repair our failing education programs, restore economic confidence, and solve foreign policy challenges are pragmatic and necessary.

Maybe even more important, he will be a president who commands respect at home and abroad. Great oration and powerful public discourse do not a successful administration make. But they sure don’t hurt.

Why then, with all these accolades, can Obama not be entirely truthful in debates, campaign events, and commercials?

It has long been tradition to embellish the benefits of a candidate’s policy or exaggerate the negative effects of the opponent’s proposals. Sadly, as the last debate demonstrated, Barack Obama could not rise above that political paradigm to change the status quo.

According to Annenberg Political Fact Check, a non-partisan website dedicated to debunking false political claims, both candidates erred on many occasions. Their analysis as well as budget projections from federal experts helped me compile several instances from the latest debate (Oct. 15, Hofstra University) where Senator Obama’s claims did not match the realities of his ideas:

The Claim: “We’ll lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year.” These numbers are based on the assumed projection that there will be $200 billion saved per year. Spread across 80 million families (per updates to the 2000 census) that yields $2,500 per family.

The Facts: Nearly half of these savings are from a RAND (a non-partisan think tank) study that projected $77 billion in health care costs will be eliminated by improving information technology techniques across the medical industry (e.g. minimal paperwork, fewer mistakes, easier general oversight).

Even after dismissing serious critiques of these conclusions as optimistic by other experts, the Obama campaign forgets to mention that savings could take fifteen years to come to fulfillment, long after even a two-term Obama administration.

Finally, the savings do not go directly to families via lower premiums. The discounts will belong to the government and employers and require hypothetical tax decreases or higher wages to reach the pockets of “Joe Six-pack.”

The Claim: “A hundred percent, John [Sen. McCain], of your ads, a hundred percent of them, have been negative.”

The Facts: Yes and no. In one selected week (Sept. 28- Oct. 4), national advertisements approved by Sen. McCain were universally negative, that is attacking Obama’s record, personal past, or planned policies and not promoting the Republican platform. According to the Wisconsin Advertising Project however, the Obama campaign ran significantly more (77%-56%) negative ads the week after the Republican National Convention than his opponent.

The Claim: “Every dollar that I’ve proposed, I’ve proposed an additional cut so that it matches.”

The Facts: Wrong. Analysis of Obama’s planned budget (incorporating planned initiatives with current budget obligations and non-discretionary spending) prepared by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center predicts a $281 billion deficit for fiscal year 2013 in an Obama Administration. The same analysts predict McCain’s deficit will exceed $600 billion for the same year.

The Claim: “In terms of standing up to the leaders of my party, the first major bill that I voted on in the Senate was in support of tort reform, which wasn’t very popular with trial lawyers, a major constituency in the Democratic Party.” This bill, S. 5 (2005), has been repeatedly representative of Obama breaking ranks with Democrats to benefit the general public.

The Facts: True, Obama was one of eighteen Democratic senators to support the legislation while twenty-six voted against the measure. This is hardly definitively supportive of Obama’s claim of “standing up to the leaders of my party.” In fact, Congressional Quarterly found that Obama voted along party lines nearly 97% of the time.

These are four examples from a ninety-minute debate where Barack Obama spun the facts to suit his campaign. More and more can be found as we look backwards towards the primary election.

I do not think Barack Obama is deceitful or dishonest. These “stretches-of-the-truth” are an unfortunate political reality that I hoped this campaign would avoid.

This article clearly focused on the miscues of the Obama campaign and not those of his opponent John McCain. My admonition of the candidates was not bi-partisan.

That is not for lack of evidence.

But a scathing article reminding everyone that in the very same debate Sen. McCain confused Colombia and Canada, blatantly lied about Joe-the-Plumber’s financial apocalypse he will face in an Obama Administration, and made pathetic attempts linking Obama to 1960s radical activists seemed too passé.

But even his fabrications pale when compared to his vice-presidential selection. Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin seems incapable of admitting ethical violations that occurred while in office, is flip-floppy at best on the infamous “bridge to nowhere”, and changes foreign policy credentials depending on which country she can see from her house. Her deceit of the American public, about her experience and her concerns about her opponent, is by far the most egregious.

Politicians often lie in campaigns. And the bigger the campaign, the bigger the lie. And this election just cannot get much bigger. That is why everyone who votes should take the time to decipher what is true about each campaign.

Voting is only a good decision if it is an informed decision. And regardless of party affiliation, it is clear we can’t always trust the information we are being given.

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