Indeed, in these days of little accountability and huge funding for Super PACS, multi-billion dollar election campaigns, media news slanting, media bashing, and unprecedented voter cynicism, the truth seems as hard to locate as when Diogenes in ancient Greece carried his famous lantern and sought in vain an honest man.
To the rescue, sort of, come a host of folks who check politicians' facts for a living. Three of the best known, apparently legitimate, objective, and bipartisan fact checking organizations are PolitiFact.com, factcheck.org, and The Fact Checker. Yet do voters even believe them, and are they making a positive difference?
According to National Public Radio (NPR), in a report broadcast on 1/10/12, "Political Fact Checking Under Fire," critics of fact verifying organizations claim that the fact checkers themselves are biased. This was not a scientific assessment, merely the opinion of some people being interviewed. (You can read the report and judge for yourself.) Anecdotal evidence suggests that a number of voters do distrust the media, even that portion of it which purports to be checking the facts.
As to whether fact checkers are in general performing a useful function, my own view is that the answer is definitely "yes." I try to keep a certain skepticism even where the statements of fact checkers are concerned, but when two or three agree in their findings, even when questioned, and have third party verification of their positions, I tend to take them seriously, much more so, anyway, than I trust the current spokespersons for either partisan camp. In addition, there appear to be modest efforts by some political professionals to get it right more often, now that they know their words will be scrutinized. Rick Santorum comes to mind. He is not completely free of distorted statements, but in my opinion appears less flamboyant in his erroneous utterances than others.
Still, notwithstanding plenty of checkers of the facts behind what politicians say, outrageous pronouncements keep being made, such as these, each pointed out on one or more of the websites mentioned above:
TX Governor Rick Perry claimed that President Obama is "a socialist." Well, not by any normal definition of the term. He also said Turkey is a nation led by Islamic terrorists. Perhaps he mistook it for Iran.
Our president alleged that his review and purging of unnecessary government regulations was "unprecedented." In fact, both President Bush #41 and President Clinton had also made sweeping reviews and removals of wasteful regulations.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich asserted that "More people have been put on Food Stamps under Barack Obama than any other president in American history." While that could come to be true before Obama leaves office, at least at the time he said that, Gingrich was off by one president: George W. Bush actually had that honor.
Barack Obama's campaign said recently that Romney, Gingrich, and Perry would chop "foreign aid to Israel - and every other country - to zero," claiming they have a strategy of "extreme isolationism." Like some of the others, there seems to be no truth at all in these allegations. Liar, liar, pants on fire!
Former MA Governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, said not long ago that due to Obama policies the country's armed forces are in danger of giving up their "military superiority" since "our Navy is smaller than it's been since 1917. Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947." Hmm. The facts are otherwise. Active U. S. Navy ships in the 1916-1917 period were 245, while they are 285 today. Yet the capabilities of those 285 ships are vastly greater than for the 1917 ones, so a numerical comparison alone is already a distortion. Also, during Bush #43's tenure the number of U.S. active naval vessels had fallen at one point to 278 and was still less than Obama's 285 when Bush left office. The number of military planes has declined since shortly after World War II, but, as with the ships, the capacity of modern aircraft is much greater than those of around 1947. In that year, for instance, many planes dropping hundreds of bombs were needed to take out a target. The same mission can now be carried out by a single manned stealth bomber and missile or even by a drone aircraft. In my opinion, few objective observers would say our overall military is inferior to that of any other nation on the planet.
Why do our candidates keep lying to us? They must do it to gain an advantage over their opponents. It sometimes works if the electorate is gullible and merely accepts what it wants or expects to hear. Fact checking services cannot solve that, but at least they help apply limits to how grossly untruthful our politicians can be.
In years past we may not have had quite as big a challenge knowing what is accurate vs. what is not. There is simply too much money flowing into and out of the falsehood industry. It is a big business. Far better, in my view, if we all paid $10 a year toward a pool that would fund political campaigns, each serious candidate for the same office getting an equal allocation of the limited available funds, and with neither outside contributions nor even private riches being permitted to be spent.
Then maybe we could concentrate on the issues of statecraft, not all the trumped up political button pushing prevarications so frequently exchanged today. Who knows? Our politicians might get so civil and cooperative with one another that they managed every now and then to exchange valentines instead.
Of course, I am not holding my breath.