Two statements this month sum up everything you need know about the sad state of American politics and media. Just days after Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl declared his 30 fold error about Planned Parenthood was "not intended to be a factual statement," President Obama decried the "silliness" over his place of birth.
But lost in the laughter over Kyl's unintended moment of candor and the sad spectacle of the President of the United States being forced to reconfirm his U.S. citizenship is this: almost every conservative talking point is not intended to be a factual statement. From President Obama's birthplace and "tax cuts that pay for themselves" to death panels, a government takeover of health care and so much other mythmaking, virtually every article of conservative faith is a fraud. Yet the Republican Party is neither scorned not laughed off the national stage but instead, aided by a complicit media desperate for entertainment value and ratings, is rewarded with power.
While some Americans will nevertheless continue to persist in their Birther fantasies, it is not too late for the media to perform its penance by debunking (or more accurately, redebunking) these 10 GOP myths:
(Click a link below to jump to the details for each.)
1. "Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves."
2. "The Estate Tax Destroys Family Farms and Small Businesses."
3. "Death Panels."
4. "A Government Takeover of Health Care."
5. "No American is Denied Health Care."
6. "The Health Care Law Adds to the Deficit."
7. "Barack Obama is a Muslim."
8. "Public Employees Are Overpaid."
9. "We Went to War [with Iraq] Because We Were Attacked."
10. "Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy."
1. "Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves." The uber-lie of Republican Party, this assertion long ago debunked by theory and history alike is the centerpiece of conservative economic orthodoxy. (After all, how else to justify a multi-trillion tax cut windfall for the wealthy?) That it's utterly false is apparently no barrier to its repetition.
When Jon Kyl declared last year that "You should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rose to his defense by stating:
"There's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject."
Perhaps, but that doesn't mean virtually every Republican isn't wrong. Despite President Bush's claim that "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase," the opposite occurred. As a percentage of the American economy, tax revenues peaked in 2000; that is, before the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Uncle Sam's cash flow from individual income taxes did not return to its pre-dot com bust level until 2006. Analyses from the Center on Budget and Policies Priorities revealed that the Bush tax cuts accounted for half of the deficits during his tenure, and if made permanent, would add more to the national debt than Iraq, Afghanistan, the stimulus and TARP - combined. For its part, the CBO put a nearly $4 trillion price tag on the loss to the U.S. Treasury resulting from making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
2. "The Estate Tax Destroys Family Farms and Small Businesses." This claim is as untrue now as when George W. Bush decried the so-called "death tax" during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Nevertheless, then Minority Leader John Boehner groused in 2009:
"People who aren't wealthy, who may have built up value in land over generations and many family farms find themselves in situations where they've got to sell the farm in order the pay the taxes."
In reality, Boehner's talking point is merely a smokescreen designed to mask the annual diversion of $25 billion in tax revenue to the families of the richest Americans. As the Washington Post explained in 2009, under President Obama's proposal (exempting couples with estates under $7 million with a 45 percent rate for amounts beyond that) 99.76% of estates would pay no taxes whatsoever. While CBPP estimated that only 1 in 500 estates is impacted by the current law, in 2009 the Tax Policy Center quantified just how few family farms or small businesses are actually impacted by the estate tax proposals under consideration:
We estimate that under the Obama proposal, 100 family farms and businesses would owe tax. (We define such estates as those where farm or business assets are valued at under $5 million and comprise the majority of estate assets.) The Lincoln-Kyl proposal would cut the number to 40. Even under current law, fewer than 2,700 family farms and businesses would owe tax.
Sadly for all other U.S. taxpayers (and the deficit), the Kyl-Lincoln proposal won the day in last December's $800 billion, two-year tax cut compromise.
3. "Death Panels." For over a year, the debate over health care was dominated and distorted by an endless cascade of Republican lies over medical malpractice, the public option, rationing and so much else. But for pure fear-mongering and untruth, the invention of "death panels" takes the cake.
Conservatives quickly converted the proposal for Medicare, like private insurance, to fund end-of-life counseling for Americans into what Sarah Palin deemed "Obama's 'death panel.'" But while Chuck Grassley called it "pulling the plug on grandma" and Virginia Foxx warned of seniors "put to death," Politifact had another name for the Republicans' mythical death panels: the 2009 Lie of the Year.
First articulated in a Frank Lutz talking points memo to Republicans, the GOP faithful charged that Democratic health care reform proposals represented a "government takeover of health care." Of course, by expanding the system in which more Americans buy private health insurance to get medical care from private doctors and private hospitals, the Affordable Care Act did no such thing. As Politifact put it:
"The phrase is simply not true."
5. "No American is Denied Health Care." Beginning in 2005 when President Bush first deployed it ("People have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."), this necessary lie became a tried and untrue arrow in the Republican rhetorical quiver.
Necessary for Republicans, that is, hoping to prevent 32 million more Americans getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But despite the uninsured by Tom Delay ("there's no one denied health care in America") and Mitch McConnell ("Well, they don't go without health care"), that GOP fraud is belied by the long lines at free health care clinics nationwide.
And the estimated 45,000 Americans who needlessly die each year simply because they lack health insurance.
6. "The Health Care Law Adds to the Deficit." A staple in the failed Republican efforts to defeat and repeal the Affordable Care Act, it's also predictably untrue.
In January, Eric Cantor (R-VA), the second ranking House Republican, said the ACA "spends money we don't have in this country":
"I think what we do know is the health care bill costs over $1 trillion," Cantor told Hill. "And we know it was full of budget gimmickry."
Not according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which earlier this year explained that the repeal of the 2010 health care law would add $230 billion to the national debt over the next 10 years. As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post put it, "Repealing health-care reform would cost hundreds of billions of dollars -- and Eric Cantor knows it."
7. "Barack Obama is a Muslim." Despite its debunking years ago by FactCheck.org, Politifact and virtually every other media organization during the 2008 campaign, the notion that Barack Obama was born somewhere other than Hawaii is now mainstream among Republicans. 51% in a recent PPP poll subscribe to the Birther fantasy, "only 28 percent said they think the president was born in the United States."
Of course, the same pathetic dynamic is at work. In America, there are no religious tests for public office. But it comes to affirming Barack Obama's Christian faith, large and growing numbers of conservatives fail the test.
As the Tea Party movement gained momentum in 2009, surveys revealed that 17% of Republicans and 19% of white evangelicals (74% of whom voted for John McCain) insist President Obama is a Muslim, despite his repeated pronouncements and decades of church attendance to the contrary. And as Bloomberg noted earlier this month:
A Pew Research Center poll last year showed that nearly one-third of Republicans believed the president, a churchgoing Christian, was a Muslim.
8. "Public Employees Are Overpaid." While the Republican war on public employees takes many forms, virtually none of them true.
John Boehner's claim that "since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs" and Tim Pawlenty's assertion that since January 2008 "local, state and federal governments added 590,000" are both pathetically false. While the federal employment as a percentage as a percentage of U.S. population is now down to levels not seen since the 1950's, the draconian cutbacks by states and municipalities have more than wiped out the meager job growth in Washington.
More important, studies of both federal and state workers shows that comparably educated public suffer a wage penalty. An assessment of salaries (excluding benefits) by the Office of Personnel Management found that on average comparable federal civilian workers are paid 22 percent less than private workers. Analyses from the Economic Policy Institute and the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts similarly upended tired union-bashing claims from the likes of Chris Christie ("There are "two classes of people in New Jersey: Public employees who receive rich benefits, and those who pay for them") and Mitt Romney ("Average government workers are now making $30,000 a year more than the average private-sector worker").
As it turns out, compensation for state and local public employees is worst among the usual suspects. As the New York Times recently documented, state workers without a college degree generally make more than their private sector counterparts ($34,000 versus $32,000, or a 6.3% gap), while college graduates make much less (a -19.9% gap). But in the reddest of states, public employees experience a pay deficit regardless of education level. In Mississippi, the pay penalty for state workers without a college degree is 11.9%; for college graduates the deficit is 16.9%.
9. "We Went to War [with Iraq] Because We Were Attacked." President Bush made that statement on June 18, 2005 despite having admitted the previous September "we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th." By December 2008, Bush's linkage had morphed into the "risk we could not afford to take."
As it turns out, for George W. Bush the "risk we could not afford to take" was not averting war with Iraq, but the absence of a compelling sales pitch for it. And to be sure, Bush was in that regard quite successful. As an October 2003 PIPA survey showed, even after the invasion of Iraq, majorities of Americans continued to believe Bush administration claims about Saddam (Iraq role in 9/11, an alliance between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and Saddam's WMD) all long since proven false. (Unsurprisingly, viewers of Fox News were the most delusional.) And as late as July 2006, fully 50% of Americans still believed the discredited claim that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Still, the zombie myths that wouldn't die about WMD and Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda continued even after the end of the Bush administration. Condoleezza Rice, who in 2006 insisted "there were ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime," claimed in March 2009 that "no one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11." Of course, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer made exactly that argument just days before:
"After September 11th having been hit once how could we take a chance that Saddam might strike again? And that's the threat that has been removed and I think we are all safer with that threat removed."
As it turned out, the only WMD - weapons of mass deception - were found not in Iraq, but in the Bush administration.
10. "Vote Fraud Threatens Our Democracy." That's the subtitle of John Fund's 2004 book, Stealing Elections, which was the precursor to his 2009 jeremiad, How the Obama Administration Threatens to Undermine Our Elections. But despite the right-wing war on ACORN, GOP hatchet-man Hans Von Spakovsky's butchery of the work of the Federal Election Commission and the draconian new voter ID laws now being considered in 32 states, there is this inescapable truth.
Vote fraud is virtually non-existent in the United States.
As the Brennan Center for Justice concluded in a 2007 report, the possibility that someone will impersonate another person at the polls is "more rare than death by lightning." As the Washington Post explained, the Republican claim of an "epidemic" of voter fraud is simply without foundation:
Arrests for voter fraud are few, however, and convictions are even rarer.
Although the Bush administration began a stepped-up program in 2002 to crack down on people who cast ballots fraudulently, fewer than 100 people were convicted in the first 4 1/2 years of the program. And according to an analysis by Weiser's center, most cases of alleged fraud in recent years have turned out to be mistakes in the voter rolls that do not result in actual faulty votes cast.
In 2006, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission concluded, "There is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling-place fraud, or at least much less than is claimed, including voter impersonation, 'dead' voters, non-citizen voting and felon voters."
Of course, the U.S. attorneys purge under President Bush, the Tea Party's "voter integrity" campaigns, unprecedented redistricting, steep barriers to voter registration and new identification requirements aren't about preventing nonexistent fraud at the ballot box. Instead, they are just tactics in the Republican strategy to suppress minority (that is, Democratic) voter turnout.
As New Hampshire Republican house speaker William O'Brien described his efforts to disenfranchise college students in the Granite State:
"Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do."
And so it goes for the NITBAFS propaganda operation that is the modern Republican Party. Last fall, Democrats were calling for a $3.8 trillion, across the board tax hike - except they weren't. Democrats are socialists, despite the fact the economy and stock market alike almost always do better under Democratic presidents. Despite raising taxes 11 times, Ronald Reagan is the great tax cutter. (That supposed icon of small government tripled the national debt while boosting real federal spending by a quarter before leaving office.) Despite doubling the national debt under George W. Bush, Republicans are the party of fiscal discipline. The stimulus, which the CBO in February concluded the nonpartisan program had saved or created up to 3.5 million jobs, lowered the unemployment rate by as much as 1.9% and boosted GDP by 4.1%, is a "failure." Meanwhile in Texas, Governor Rick Perry proclaimed "we can take care of ourselves" even though $6.4 billion in federal stimulus money plugged 97% of the Lone Star State's deficit for the 2010-11 fiscal budget.
For his part, comedian Stephen Colbert had a great time with Jon Kyl's admission that when he lies, the claim in question was "not intended to be a factual statement." As it turns out, it was also Colbert who told President Bush to his face, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."
So, as they have been for years, the Republicans are simply manufacturing their own reality.
(Note: An earlier version of this piece appeared as "The Not Intended to Be a Factual Statement Party.")