Half-truths and outright lies are nothing new in politics. Politicians are adept at bending the truth any which way in order to suit their needs. However, in his recent speech at the Republican National Convention, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, showed a remarkable disregard for facts, as reported by The Washington Post. While it’s not unusual for politicians to make some questionable claims, Ryan went beyond this; he made several unambiguously false statements, and he did so on a national stage.
Ryan’s claim that the stimulus was “the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government” is simply false. There’s no way this is true, no matter how one looks at it. In fact, it isn’t even close. The stimulus, at $631 billion, is dwarfed by World War II, which comes in at a whopping $4.1 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service. This is not a matter of opinion — it’s a matter of math.
Not content to merely lie once, Ryan goes on to state that President Barack Obama has done nothing to address the buildup of the national debt. The president’s plan on whitehouse.gov to address the debt crisis, released last September, may disagree with that claim. Just because Ryan doesn’t agree with Obama’s plan doesn’t mean there is no plan. Once again, there is no wiggle room here. Ryan is unequivocally lying.
Ryan then blames the president for the nation’s credit downgrade, from AAA to AA+, by Standard & Poors. However, actually reading S&P’s report tells a different story. It says that the ratings agency now believes the Bush tax cuts will remain in place after 2012 “because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues …” Once again, Ryan speaks with absolutely zero regard for the truth. When confronted with this knowledge by CBS News’ Scott Pelley, Ryan refused to back down.
The bright spot of this situation is that the news media, for the most part, has held Ryan accountable for his inaccuracies. Columnists from media outlets as disparate as the Washington Post and Fox News have called Ryan out on his blatant lies. In a presidential campaign that has been marked by a remarkable absence of truth, this is a welcome change.
None of this is to say that Ryan, or more generally Republicans, are the only ones dancing around, or sometimes, simply disregarding the truth. It takes place on both sides of the aisle and both parties should be held equally accountable.
Of course, it’s easy to call for more fact checking from the sidelines. In reality, it’s a very complex issue. By holding politicians accountable for what they say, the media risks appearing biased. It doesn’t look good for a newspaper when a well-respected politician decries it as biased for actually calling the politician out for their bullshit.
However, this shouldn’t stop newspapers from thoroughly fact checking politicians’ claims. After all, the media should be beholden to the public, not to a select few politicians.
Joe Timmerman ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in math and economics.