Watch as the right distorts facts, lies, and spreads political propaganda

John Hawkins wrote a story for Townhall.com called “15 facts that even Obama’s biggest supporters should be able to admit are true”. The first half of the list is solidly grounded in fact, but requires disclaimers that render them pointless in the context of supposedly educating supporters of President Obama.

The other half are lies.

Here’s the first bunch:

1) Real median household income is down $4300 since Obama took office.

2) The percentage of unemployed workers who’ve been out of a job for more than a year is over 30%.

3) The country has had the longest streak of +8% unemployment since the Depression under Obama: 39 months and counting.

4) In 2011 under Barack Obama, nearly one out of every seven Americans was on food stamps. That’s a 70 percent increase from 2007.

5) Fifty percent of new college graduates are underemployed or unemployed.

6) U.S. home ownership is at a decade long low. So is the number of Americans who say their home is worth more than they paid for it. Home prices are the lowest they’ve been since 2002.

I haven’t fact-checked these claims and given the lack of evidence to support them from Hawkins, they should all be taken with a grain of salt until someone digs into all of them. But they sound plausible enough. What matters then is context. All of these facts would be true no matter who the President is, be it Barack Obama or John McCain. All of these things are the direct result of the worst recession since the Great Depression, which economics professor and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman has taken to calling the Lesser Depression.

None of them have anything to do with government policy. Food stamp usage was increasing well before President Obama won the election, just as unemployment was skyrocketing heading in 2009. The reason that Hawkins chose 2007 as the year to begin counting in fact #4 is because that’s when usage began to increase, two years before Barack Obama was elected President and the exact year the recession began. That’s 17 months before the 2008 general election.

Food stamp usage in the summer of 2007 appears to have been somewhere around 26 to 26.5 million Americans (8.3%) — a shameful number even in good economic times — but had risen sharply to around 33 million (10.5%) by February of 2009. It seems unlikely that 7 million Americans suddenly decided they needed to use food stamps because Barack Obama became President and well before he had a chance to enact any of his policies. To remind you how bad things were in February of 2009, the economy was shedding close to 650,000 jobs per month and GDP was negative.

To give you even more context, the food stamp program even covering 45 million people last year is only costing $72 billion per year. For comparison, the Bush tax cuts are costing $238 billion per year and that cost increasing. Letting the tax cuts for the rich expire would probably cover the entire food stamp program even in these extraordinary times.

The claim that fifty percent of new college graduates are underemployed or unemployed, first of all, is a con game since for all we know, 90% of that figure could be coming from either underemployed (meaning they have part-time jobs but want full-time jobs) or unemployed. Without knowing what the breakdown is, you can’t know what the number means. It’s also not a statistic that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, so it may not even accurate. But the most damning criticism is that we aren’t told what the figure is even during good economic times. It could be as high as 30-40% normally, making 50% seem much less impressive.

But most of those facts seem to be on the level, so long as you understand that they’d be facts under a President McCain too.

Let’s move on to the distortions and lies.

7) Barack Obama ended NASA’s manned space program.

This claim is factually false. Congress, not the Obama administration, makes decisions about the future of NASA’s various programs based on input from the President. But that agenda is not binding. Congress through the budgeting process has full discretion over NASA’s mission, just as it does with every other federal agency. And NASA’s manned space program has not ended. The shuttle program has is history, but the manned space program is still active in a new form: a return to the old capsule/rocket system that resulted in the first human being to set foot on the moon being an American. That new system is in support of a planned return of manned missions to the moon, and eventually Mars.

This is the kind of claim you’d find in a chain email written by idiots and spread by equally stupid, or at least misinformed, hyper partisans who will use any negative piece of information to make the President look bad. The fact is there was much support in Congress for transitioning away from the shuttle program and ultimately it was Congress that made the call, not President Obama.

8) Going into this election cycle, Barack Obama had raised more money from Wall Street than any President in history. He has also raised more money from Wall Street than all of the GOP presidential contenders combined in this election cycle.

The first claim in this “fact” is of the type that requires disclaimers. Wall Street spending, like all political spending, set all kinds of records in 2008. It’s true that Wall Street bet heavily on President Obama to win the election, but it’s also true that Wall Street also donated heavily to John McCain’s campaign, and the campaigns of many Republicans who were fighting for the nomination, including one Mitt Romney.

The second claim is misleading. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Hawkins claims that Obama raised more money in the last election cycle than any President in history. That claim is based on a story written by the Anonymous Coward “E. M. Zanotti” for Ringwingnews.com, who also said “…more Wall Street cash than any President in history”. The problem for Zanotti and Hawkins is severe. You see, that’s not what John Rossomando actually said:

Despite his rhetorical attacks on Wall Street, a study by the Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Project shows that President Barack Obama has received more money from Wall Street than any other politician over the past 20 years, including former President George W. Bush.

Note the phrase that I’ve bolded. Rossomando didn’t say “than any other President”, he said “than any other politician”, and he didn’t say “ever”, he said “in the past 20 years”. The liberty that Zanotti and Hawkins took with that information renders it useless, but because the real information is so much more interesting, I’m going to tell you the true story based directly on data from the Sunlight Foundation that if you’re interested, you can read for yourself.

Wall Street is the second largest industry that Sunlight lists. “Unknown” is tops, at $287.8 million dating back to 1989. Wall Street is second at $98.8 million. Lawyers and Law Firms are third, at $93.9 million, almost as much. The drop-off from there is large. The Real Estate industry gave $62 million, Health Professionals gave $61.9 million, and Public Sector Unions gave $47.7 million.

Before I get into any more detail, understand that these numbers differ significantly based on dates. President Obama’s numbers between 2008 and 2012 look little different than between 1989 and 2012, because most of his career consists of being an Illinois Senator. Mitt Romney’s numbers are spotty, with significant contributions while running for Governor of Massachusetts, and his failed 2008 Presidential primary campaign, with large gaps between them.

If you look at the 1989-2012 data, a span of 23 years, George E. Pataki, the Republican 53rd Governor of New york, is the top recipient of “unknown” industries, taking in $32.3 million. Current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) is second at $27.8 million. Seven of the top ten are Republicans. But if you look at the 2011-2012 cycle, embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) tops the list by bringing in $11.7 million in contributions, with Jindal coming in second at $6.1 million. This time six of the top ten are Republicans.

With that context, lets look at Wall Street.

The top recipient of Wall Street cash between 1989 and 2012 is in fact Barack Obama, at $18.3 million. George W. Bush is second at $13.3 million, followed very closely by Mitt Romney at $12.3 million. Despite losing the 2008 GOP nomination, Romney hauled in more contributions from Wall Street than eventual nominee John McCain did by about $2 million dollars. But again, dates can be misleading. George W. Bush is out of politics so he’s not pulling in any contributions in the current cycle, while John McCain is because he’s still active in Congress.

The more meaningful dates would be the 2007-2008 election, which would pit Barack Obama directly and fairly against both John McCain and Mitt Romney. Unsurprisingly Barack Obama tops the list, with $14.9 million in contributions from Wall Street, although that should immediately set off warning bells if you’ve been able to keep up with the numbers thus far. John McCain is second at $8.7 million, which makes sense given that he was the GOP nominee for that cycle, and Mitt Romney was a distant fifth at $4.9 million.

Now think about that. Doesn’t it seem a little odd that President Obama has gotten $18.3 million from Wall Street during his entire political career, but that $14.9 million (81%) of it came in the previous general election? Isn’t it also interesting that Mitt Romney only pulled in $4.9 million from Wall Street 2007-2008, yet his current total is a much healthier $12.3 million?

Indeed. The reason is quite simple. While Wall Street bet more heavily on Barack Obama in 2008 than any other politician in the last 23 years, the financial sector has changed sides in a big way. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:

Barack Obama (07-08): $14.9 million
Mitt Romney (07-08): $4.9 million

Mitt Romney (11-12): $6.8 million
Barack Obama (11-12): $2.3 million

Counting only Wall Street, Obama out-raised Romney 3:1 in 2007-2008. In this cycle, Romney is out-raising Obama 2.9:1.

Given how close Mitt Romney is ($12.3m) to Barack Obama ($18.3m) in the past 23 years, it’s entirely possible that by the time this election is over, Mitt Romney will have the distinction of receiving more money from Wall Street than any other politician in the last quarter century.

The second claim, which I said was misleading and promised to come back to, plays out like this. The claim is that Barack Obama has received more money from Wall Street than all other GOP candidates combined in the current cycle (2011-2012). The way this is phrased, it’s comparing the total amount of money raised by Obama in his entire career to the subtotal amount raised by all the 2011 GOP primary candidates combined.

Obviously that’s a con game. The true comparison would be money raised by President Obama this cycle versus all the GOP candidates combined this cycle, and the Republican Party wins that contest hands down. It’s not necessary to add up the small contributions taken in by losers like Herman Cain (a little over $100,000) because the big donations come after the primary, mainly because one candidate alone has raised nearly triple the amount of Obama — Mitt Romney.

It is true in the end that Wall Street bet big on Obama in 2008 and were richly rewarded in some ways for that money. But it’s also true that Wall Street is betting big on Mitt Romney this time around, which is exactly what you’d expect given the breed of that candidate.

9) Under Barack Obama’s leadership, the last time Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats passed a budget was April 9, 2009.

This talking point is enormously popular with conservatives, despite government shutdowns because of a lack of budgets also being extremely popular with conservatives. It was the GOP that forced the enormously unpopular shutdowns in the 90s that destroyed Newt Gingrich’s career, and it was again the GOP that nearly forced multiple government shutdowns in last year and appear as if they are going to repeat that behavior again this year.

A few things must be said to give this claim context. First, the government isn’t required by the Constitution to pass massive all-in-one budgets on a regular basis. One might even argue that the government might be more responsible with spending if it had to pass hundreds of spending bills each year to individually pay for every single item members of Congress want. It is perfectly legal and maybe even preferable for the government to use continuing resolutions, spending freezes, and stop-gap spending bills as a new way of doing things. All of that is perfectly debatable and the point in bringing it up is to help people understand that it’s not inherently wrong or illegal to not pass all-in-one budgets.

As I noted above, it has become an uncommon but not rare tactic of the Republican Party to refuse to pass spending bills on time in order to pressure Democrats to cave to the GOP’s demands on things like spending cuts, tax cuts, and spending increases on their preferred programs like defense. But that’s politics. The point is that not passing a budget is not the end of the world, illegal, wrong, or even abnormal.

That said, the FY2011 budget was not passed on time in 2010. Democrats did control Congress and the White House, but the government was nonetheless funded via continuing resolutions. Congress did not abdicate its responsibility, it simply used a different method to fund the government during that time period. Democrats say they wanted to get the 2010 mid-term elections out of the way before going to war over the budget. Whether or not that reason justifies what happened, it’s what they claim. And when considered together with the fact that the government was completely funded through other means during that period, it’s hardly something to cry about.

The FY2012 budget that was supposed to be passed in 2011 is another story. With Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling a much smaller Senate majority, severe fighting was bound to happen. It was almost inevitable that a budget would be late, but this time for a different reason. Again I would highlight the history of the Republican Party delaying the passing of budgets as a strategy towards forcing Democrats to cave to their budget demands, and their perfect willingness to let the government literally shutdown as a result, as happened in the 1990s.

Yet again the government has been fully funded either via continuing resolutions, or via the Budget Control Act which froze spending levels such that no budget even need be passed for the next fiscal year. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.

This fact is misleading, and to most voters, utterly irrelevant I suspect.

10) Barack Obama’s budget was defeated 414-0 in the House and 99-0 in the Senate.

I am enormously grateful to John Hawkins for pointing this out, because it gives me an opportunity to show you what infantile shitheads Republicans have become. It’s true that *a* budget was defeated unanimously in both chambers. But God is in the details. It wasn’t a spending bill or a budget, it was a budget proposal. Normal spending bills range from 1,000 to 2,000 pages. What got voted on was a proposal with no details whatsoever that ran about 54 pages. Enacting it into law would have resulted in legal chaos and nothing would have been paid for.

You see, this was a gimmick vote that Republicans are notorious for. The proposal that was voted on wasn’t a budget, it was a proposal without details, and it wasn’t submitted by Democrats, it was submitted by a Republican. Democrats all voted against it because it wasn’t an actual budget. Republicans all voted against it just to be dicks. It would have been no different than if Democrats had introduced a one-page bill for vote that said “Republicans are gay” and called it Mitt Romney’s budget.

The event was pure political theater meant to embarrass the President and accomplish nothing for the American people.

It’s true, this is a fact. The vote totals are correct. But the salient information is how childish and disinterested in addressing the country’s many very serious problems Republicans have become.

11) When he was running for President in 2008, Barack Obama pledged not to raise taxes on families making less than 250,000 dollars per year. He broke that promise with the tanning salon tax and with Obamacare, which raises almost 500 billion dollars in new taxes, a significant portion of which would be paid by people making less than 250,000 dollars per year.

This claim requires intimate knowledge of the Patient Protect and Affordable Care Act that I don’t have, and I doubt John Hawkins has it either. But I would note that then-candidate Obama promised not to raise taxes on individuals earning less than $200,000 per year, and either small businesses and./or couples earning less than $250,000. So right off the bat the “fact” is faulty because the dollar figure is wrong.

While that’s enough to turn #11 into a lie, I’ll admit that the tanning salon tax seems like fair criticism. Politifact dinged the President on the tanning tax and an increase on tobacco. But it’s worth keeping in mind that cigarettes and indoor tanning salons are optional consumption services. It’s not like this is an increase on income tax that everyone is subject to. People who don’t want to pay the extra 10% are free to go outside once in a while and get a tan for free. People who don’t want to pay more for cigarettes are free to quit at any time.

Doing both is not only cheaper, but healthier to boot.

Not to mention that other tax cuts crafted by President Obama, such as the payroll tax holiday, almost certainly result in a net cut for everyone getting hit by the salon tax, perhaps other than John Boehner.

12) When Barack Obama took office, gas was $1.95 per gallon. Today gas is $3.72 per gallon.

This is true and a fact, but again, quite misleading when you only look at the current economic situation. The price of gasoline was as low as $2.20 per gallon in April of 2005, right in the middle of the Bush administration. It rose to as high as $4.12 per gallon in the summer of 2008, a point that hasn’t yet been reached under President Obama’s watch, before plummeting along with most other things during the recession as the global financial sector collapsed. (For what it’s worth, I think that is beautiful proof of just how much extra we’re paying in gas due to Wall Street speculation on gas and oil. Before the recession it was $4.12/gal, but once Wall Street collapsed, it plummeted to less than $2.00/gal.)

The Bush administration provides outstanding precedent for wild fluctuations in gas and oil prices, and conservatives during that period strongly defended President Bush politically by claiming then that the government can’t control the price of gas or oil.

It’s interesting that conservatives today are blaming President Obama for high gas prices while they spent years claiming that President Bush — nay the entire federal government — has no control whatsoever over the price of gas.

Oh, and about the price of gas. It’s been falling every day since May 16th. No doubt because Mitt Romney won the GOP nomination.

13) In February of this year, the federal government had a 229 billion dollar deficit. That was the largest deficit in the history of the United States.

A deficit co-written by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. I didn’t check this number and given everything above, it may actually be fraudulent. But even if it’s true, the only deficit figure that matters is for the entire year. And the record as I understand it is roughly $1.5 trillion for FY2009, a budget deficit signed into law by President Bush.

14) America lost its AAA credit rating (which it had held since 1917) on Obama’s watch despite the fact that Timothy Geithner publicly said there was “no risk” of that happening.

I’ve got no love for Tim Geithner, but S&P specifically called out Congress for the downgrade, not the White House, and named the Republican Party by name for nearly pushing the government to default on its obligations as the reason why. Given that, it’s safe to assume that the United States would have probably suffered a credit downgrade under President McCain as well.

15) Barack Obama added more to the debt in just 38 months than George Bush did in two full terms as President.

This requires a find understanding of how the government works to figure out properly. Budgets are typically passed a year in advance, meaning the first ~7 months of President Obama’s first year are on George W. Bush’s books, and so on going back before them. Thus the budgets that President Obama is responsible for are budgets that he signed, FY2010-FY2012.

FY2010: $1.267 trillion deficit
FY2011: $1.046 trillion.
FY2012: $1.327 trillion.

That’s $3.64 trillion in a little over three years.

The debt in 2001 was $5,769 billion. In 2009 it was $10,413 billion. That’s an increase of $4,644 billion.

Thus #15 is a lie.

So much for “15 facts that even Obama’s biggest supporters should be able to admit are true”. Some are true, but misleading because they are the result of the recession and would be true no matter who is President. Some are distortions, like supposedly ending man spaced flight. Some are outright lies.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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