Well, another year has passed with political lies spewing forth faster than stink on you-know-what. The mission of PaulitiFact and the other national lies rating agencies is to prune the thicket of political lies to relieve the American people of that gruesome burden so they can enjoy their Christmas and New Year's holidays (aka, the "holiday season").
That is, unless you are the long-term unemployed that the Republican House has skipped town to avoid helping. But, at least we at PaulitiFact were able to select the top 10 lies of the year earlier than usual, confident that our major lie-generating institution was not around to crash the list. PaulitiFact's staff joined the Republican House to enjoy an early holiday. The House must, after all, be as exhausted by all the work they did to achieve absolutely nothing as PaulitiFact has been handling all the lies.
(And, a shout out and special Christmas cheer goes to Rand Paul (R-KY) for freeing our consciences to enjoy an early holiday by explaining that Republicans' Bronx cheer for the unemployed is actually just for their own good).
2013 has passed with remarkable speed. As you recall, it was not Romney, but the "Benghazi-was-a-scandal" lie that won the 2012 award because it was not only more egregious, but because the Issa investigation it triggered led to revealing key national security information.
So, without further ado, here are PaulitiFact's 10 top political lies for 2013:
1. The Iran Deal was a "Gift" to Iran. Republican and other critics blasted the deal Secretary of State John Kerry, together with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (aka, P5+1), reached to curtail Iran's nuclear program, as a gift, getting nothing in return and so forth.
That was not only a lie, but a very dangerous lie, that nearly threatened to scuttle all the work toward a potential peaceful solution by the US Congress enacting more sanctions in a knee-jerk reaction to those lies. That threat is not dead.
Indeed, to the contrary, the Iran deal was a good first-step toward a potential deal that would keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and from "breaking out" and quickly making a bomb. While temporarily lifting some sanctions, we now have inspectors into the Iran nuclear facilities, dilution of currently 20 percent enriched stockpiles down to 5 percent, limitations on enrichments above 5 percent, prohibition from further enrichment of Iran's 3.5 percent stockpile, dismantling of centrifuges able to enrich above 5 percent, halting of further construction on the reactor, and, most importantly, the beginning of building trust between Iran and the West.
No one ever suggested that the next 6 months that this agreement covers until a permanent and complete deal is reached is going to be easy. No one suggested that a permanent and complete agreement will be reached. But, if one wants to screw it up before it begins, as most Republicans wish if only to deny the President an achievement, just turn to Congress, and they will oblige.
Although the press has been consumed with health care reform, and paid only passing attention to the Iran deal, and, we note, our chief rival lies-rating agency put healthcare on the top of its list, PaulitiFact's management and staff agreed that lying about the interim agreement with Iran is nearly as egregious as lying us into war in Iraq, and thus the lie to destroy the peace process before it begins deserves the "top-lie-of-the-year" award. Indeed, it is not even close.
2. The Voting Rights Act is no longer needed. Only rarely can a decision of the Supreme Court be called a lie. No matter how much one disagrees with a decision, or believes it is wrongly reasoned, decisions rarely are outright lies. For example, as wrongly reasoned and decided as the Citizens United case was, and as much havoc as it has wrecked on our democracy, it was not an outright lie. It was just, well, corrupt, an attempt by the Republican-appointed majority on the Court to put its finger on the electoral scales.
The Voting Rights decision (Shelby County v Holder) was, however, a series of rather obvious lies, and so PaulitiFacts second top lie of the year goes the 5 Justices (Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy) who crafted it.
Everything about the Supreme Court decision in this case was a lie. Everything.
Justice Scalia found that near unanimity in Congress favoring the 25-year extension of the Act in 2006 (a Republican Congress at that) was actually proof that Congress -- to whom the Judicial Branch defers except when clearly in violation of the Constitution -- really thought the law should be scrapped, but could not figure out how to do it. Chief Justice Roberts relied upon the "well-known" doctrine of equal sovereignty among the states, a doctrine so "well-known" that it appears in just one other case that Roberts himself wrote.
So, just as near unanimity favoring a law actually means no one favored it, "well-known" means that it was previously mentioned once, by the same person referencing it now. George Orwell must be smiling.
The Chief Justice also wrote that federal involvement in state elections was a "grave matter," raising the 10th Amendment's limitations on federal power, while ignoring entirely the 15th Amendment that is so brief, clear and unambiguous about Congress's power that PaulitiFacts quotes it in its entirety:
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
What part of "the right to vote" or "by any State" or "Congress shall have the power" did Roberts not understand? Once Congress is explicitly granted a power, the 10th Amendment is no longer applicable.
But, that is not all. The plaintiff in this case, Shelby County, Alabama, itself had numerous recent violations of the Act, and thus was not even a truly aggrieved party.
And, to top it off, the Chief Justice and his crew, who clearly do not like the rising American electorate very much, basically said that the law had been so effective that it was no longer needed!
That this was all a lie was unequivocally demonstrated within a few weeks of the decision as previously covered state after state passed severe limitations on the right to vote. The Supreme Court majority had no knowledge these laws were sitting in the wings, awaiting their green light?
Basing a decision not only on no facts, but on contradictions to the facts, allowing a tainted plaintiff to make the case, pretending the 15th Amendment did not exist and employing one lie after another to reach a decision that hugely impacts US citizens' fundamental rights and democracy is PaulitiFact's #2 lie of the year. It did not make #1 only because nuclear weapons are, well, nuclear.
3. The Affordable Care Act is Bad Medicine and Limits Freedoms. Whatever else one might think of it, healthcare policy is clearly a full employment program for lies-rating agencies. PaulitiFact wrestled with how to handle these never-ending lies about healthcare, so many that rose and fell as facts (yikes, facts!) were exposed, that selecting any one out of context as the most egregious risks confusing those about which the most noise is made with those of greatest importance.
Hence, we consider all the healthcare lies together as a single category as the 2013's 3rd top lie.
For our purposes we ignore the characterizations of the Affordable Care Act as worse than terrorism, Hitler and Stalin combined and all similar statements, because there are other, more important lies about Obamacare that resonate here, on planet earth.
But, it is worth noting that the opposition to the Affordable Care Act employed general lies such as characterizing it as "government takeover of health care" and "limiting our freedoms" to stir hatred and antagonism toward a measure designed to improve peoples' health and provide coverage and prevention of illness.
PaulitiFact had thought it had seen everything in its field of political lies. But, characterizing a private-insurance competitive system as "government takeover" is certainly among the most outrageous of them all.
What about freedom? Are people more or less free when they are no longer an illness away from bankruptcy? Are they more or less free when they can obtain screening for breast cancer? Are people more or less free when an insurance company cannot deny coverage based upon pre-existing illness?
It is worth recalling that specific lies about the Affordable Care Act have included, "pulling the plug on grandma", "death panels", "government takeover of healthcare", "government bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor" and others too numerous to count.
And, of course, there is "if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it." PaulitiFact considers this a lie, despite it being technically true (all plans still in existence from March, 2010, were indeed grandfathered), and despite insurance companies' contributing to the noise by declaring that peoples' policies were canceled due to the Affordable Care Act (some were, some were just canceled as per their usual practice), and not directing people to the exchange, but rather to their own much more expensive plans.
PaulitiFact considers this a lie about healthcare because President Obama repeated so often without qualifying it.
Other equally egregious lies about healthcare have been claims that "Obamacare does not cover my infant" (whereas, in fact, the individual did not list his infant in his application), "Obamacare has prevented me from hiring more workers" (whereas, in fact, the company had only 4 workers and Obamacare does not apply to companies with fewer than 50 workers), "Obamacare jacked up my premiums for less coverage" (whereas, in fact, much of the premium raised was offset by subsidy and the coverage) and "Obamacare requires a microchip implanted in my body."
As a further public service, PaulitiFact notes for those interested that, politics aside, scientific progress doomed our pre-Obamacare system of insurance, indeed the entire concept of pooled risk, and thus the Affordable Care Act represents the last hope for a private healthcare insurance industry.
4. The Federal Government has a spending problem not a revenue problem. As the other pillars of RepubliCONomics have crumbled (tax-cuts do not pay for themselves, taxing the wealthy does not impact job creation, regulations do not reduce jobs, government spending does create jobs), the sequester has exposed another canard, that we have "a spending problem, not a revenue problem."
Within weeks of the sequester becoming effective, our dearly beloved Members of Congress voted themselves refuge from its impact by stealing from the future funding of airport modernization to pay enough transportation security screeners to keep our airport lines moving.
There is, no doubt, "waste, fraud and abuse" in the expenditures of any large organization, private or public. For example, Members of Congress who sit on the Agriculture Committee, such as Tom Huelskamp (R-KS) are themselves recipients of enormous government agricultural subsidies.But, the simple facts are these:
- we have infrastructure needs of $2.2 Trillion that successive congresses have avoided so they could appear not to be spending money, but we either spend the money or watch the continued decline of our competitiveness;
- we have an increasing retired population that will require increased expenditures;
- we have huge corporate welfare expenses through the tax-code (and, if corporations are people, one wonders why such recipients are also not made "lazy" by such largesse);
- we spend more on the military than the next 15 countries combined that will take decades to wind down assuming there is the will to do it;and
- we have obligations to veterans that only a Republican like Paul Ryan (R-WI) can ignore.
We have deficits, therefore, because the elite, mostly Republicans but enabled by some Democrats, allow the wealthy to park their fortunes in offshore tax havens (costing you and me $150B/year), tax them at a lower rate than JFK (70 percent) and Reagan (50 percent), and do not raise revenues from largely non-productive activities in the financial sector (another $50-150B/year).
The "spending problem not a revenue problem" canard is not higher than #4 on this year's list only because it is an insidious, continuous lie, slowly hollowing out the middle class, whereas 1-3 are more immediate and acute. The ranking is not meant to suggest it is less important.
5. Because the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, the Republican majority represents the majority of Americans on every issue. Unlike the Senate, in which 1 person in Wyoming has the same electoral clout as 66 in California, the House is, gerrymandering aside, relatively representative of the American people, where each citizen's vote has approximately the same weight. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has taken the position that, because the majority of the House is Republican, that Republicans and only Republicans represent the majority of the American people on every issue.
But, that is a lie. As has been shown in the few issues in which the House has been allowed to express itself, coalitions of most Democrats and a slice of Republicans represent the majority will of the American people on those matters, including such minor issues as not defaulting on the national debt.
Paulitifact rates this as the 5th worst lie of the year because of its key role in creating the gridlock that is undermining the American people and ignoring their preferences.
6. How does Darrel Issa lie to thee? How can we count the ways?
As with healthcare, there are so many lies emanating from this one person that choosing one would insult the other lies he has generated. As incoming chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2010, Issa strutted like a peacock an array of subpoenas to investigate corruption and malfeasance for which no evidence existed.
Having begun with assumed conclusions based on no facts, Issa's investigations were almost guaranteed to create strong competition for the top political lies of the year. Indeed, in one after the other, the only malfeasor has been Issa himself.
With each, the biggest lie is that there was any scandal at all.
With Benghazi, Issa's "investigations" were conducted in public when he thought he had damaging testimony -- but he never did. None of his 'revelations' amounted to anything at all. But, when the sober duo (former Ambassador Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chair Mullen) who had actually investigated the tragedy testified, that was held in secret.
A doctored memo from Issa's staff to Jonathan Karl at ABC news, shown to be a fraud, was never investigated.
With the IRS, the big lie was that there was something inherently wrong with the IRS doing its congressionally-mandated job of ensuring that groups claiming tax exempt status with the right to hide donor identity qualified for that designation in the law (501(c)4). Nothing compelled any group to apply, and nothing prevented any group from saying what they wished. All that was at stake was the special status.
To top off the year, again with no evidence, Issa launched an 'investigation' into the Obamacare navigators, trying to intimidate and otherwise obstruct them from helping people sign up for healthcare.
7. Messaging Is Republicans' Only Problem with Minorities, Youth and Women. Republicans are remarkably certain that, if they only change the way they speak to minorities, youth and women, these voting groups will flock to them in droves.
How much of this is a lie, and how much is self-delusion, is difficult to assess.
Republicans opposed renewing the Violence Against Women's Act, opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, oppose the Pay-Check Equity Act, opposed the Family Medical Leave Act, vote enormous cuts in food stamps, oppose the health plan mandate providing the safest and most effective contraception coverage, enact laws that directly assault women with medically-unnecessary procedures to get constitutionally-protected abortions, insert the government between women, their consciences and their physicians trying to force them, for example, to bear their rapists' children and insult them by forcing them to listen to medically-inaccurate government-imposed lies about abortion.
PaulitiFact has been unable to find a single measure championed by Republicans that was specifically designed to help working Americans, the poor, minorities or youth.
The 7th top lie of the year is Republicans' assertion that they primarily have a messaging problem with the rising electorate. PaulitiFact cannot determine, however, if Republicans are just lying to themselves (aka, self-delusion), lying to others or both.
8. Law-Abiding Citizens Should Not Be Subject to Gun Regulations
The insidious lie in this assertion is that criminals were always criminals and law-abiding gun owners will always remain law-abiding.
Tomorrow's mass murderer is often today's law-abiding citizen. The premise behind laws and regulations, such as background checks and limitations on bullet magazine size, is to reduce the likelihood that someone who is law-abiding today can acquire guns-of-mass-destruction to use when he no longer is law-abiding.
Laws regulating other industries subject the ethical and law-abiding to standards and controls to prevent their slide into unethical or illegal behavior. We have speed limits, red-lights, requirements for insurance and passing drivers' and vehicle tests, to make our roads safer for everyone.
An industry whose business is lethality ought to have similar protections.
PaulitiFact's 8th top lie of the year is the false claim that regulations imposing background checks for everyone, and limiting magazine size, is punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of criminals, suggesting that there is no migration between the two categories.
9. Republicans Will Propose a Concrete Alternative to the Affordable Care Act and Have it Scored by the Congressional Budget Office
Republicans swept into control of Congress in 2010 promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with "common sense, patient-oriented reforms." The Republican House delivered on the repeal part -- more than 40 times.
Oddly, however, they never seemed to get around to the "replace" promise.
Well, perhaps, not so oddly.
What could they offer? The Affordable Care Act was actually the Republican alternative to a single payer system. Apparently, poor Mitt Romney did not get the memo that Senate Republicans Grassley (R-IA) et al. who introduced it in the 1990s were not really serious, and so he went ahead with great fanfare and implemented it in Massachusetts. It was his major (only?) achievement in political life and likely thought it was his ticket to the presidency. Instead, it wound up revealing his total lack of personal integrity as he spent at least 6 years disavowing it.
Is there an alternative Republicans can fashion that eliminates pre-existing conditions as a bar to coverage? If so, perhaps they will explain how they are going to pay for it. The same is true of eliminations of annual and lifetime caps, the provision for free mammographies, closing the doughnut hole in part D of Medicare and, for that matter, extending the solvency of Medicare until at least 2026.
PaulitiFact realizes it is sticking its neck out. The Paul Ryan (R-WI) "plan" for healthcare is due, according to Speaker Boehner (R-OH), in January and hence labeling the statement as a lie a month early is a risk for our reputation as the nation's leading lies-rating agency.
We are not sweating it. Although there may be something they label a "plan," it will never be scored by the CBO, nor voted upon by Congress.
10. The "White Santa" Controversy is Meaningless Drivel.
The country would do itself a favor to understand the sentiments underlying the "Santa is white" controversy. Those asserting it reveal not so much racism (although, see below), but rather their deep anxiety that "they" are robbing us of our exclusivity, that there has to be some corner of culture that "we" own and cannot be appropriated by the "other."
PaulitiFact does not believe that FoxNews's Megyn Kelly has a racist bone in her body in the sense that she would support directly denying people of color their basic rights. That said, the entire country will not eliminate racism until it stops identifying people on the basis of the color of their skin. That is a long time away.
And that, really, is the point of Nelson Mandela's struggle. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela recounts serving as a lawyer for people trying to get their racial classification changed from "black" to "colored" because the latter category entitled the "lucky" recipient to greater rights in the apartheid regime. In one of the cases, the judge asks Mandela's client to turn around so he can assess the "slope of his shoulders". Imagine, Mandela wrote, your rights and opportunities being based on the slope of your shoulders.
As Michael Lind has brilliantly written, the South sees American history not as a series of triumphs, but rather as one loss after another. In Stephen Spielberg's Lincoln, the Confederate delegation suing for peace asked Lincoln if they could re-join the Union in time to vote down the 13th Amendment ending slavery, indicating that the abolition of slavery would destroy their economy and their way of life.
"Santa-is-not-real-but-he-is-white" is indeed a cry of a fading demographic to retain exclusivity and hegemony.
The subject matter is meaningless drivel, but its underlying impulse is not.
PaulitiFact's staff would like to wish everyone a lie-free and credit-card secure Xmas and New Year's. We want to thank our subscribers and their families especially for keeping our doors open.
But, mostly, we wish to thank our political class for their guaranteed, never-ending supply of lies and misdirection, ignoring the late Adlai Stevenson's observation that "those who corrupt the public mind are as evil as those who steal from the public purse." Without them, PaulitiFact's business would go the way of the buggy whip and slide-rule.
PaulitiFact assures its readers and subscribers that it will maintain its focus on the lies. We leave investigation of stealing from the public purse to others. We are busy enough with the lies, and see no signs of that business abating.
Follow Paul Abrams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pabrams2001