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Distortions, misrepresentations, omissions and outright lies

Published June 6, 2004

If you have seen some of this year's presidential campaign advertising - and what television viewer hasn't? - you may have noticed something different. George W. Bush and John Kerry appear in their own ads long enough to say, "I approved this message."

I guess hearing the candidates assume responsibility for their message is supposed to reassure voters that the ads are factually accurate and truthful. Bush and Kerry wouldn't lie to us, would they? Given their low regard for the truth, I suggest this revision in their ad scripts:

"I'm George W. Bush and I approved these lies and distortions."

"I'm John Kerry and I approved these lies and distortions."

That would be jarring to hear, but it would at least be honest.

In this election year both presidential campaigns are spending record amounts of money on television ads built around distortions, disinformation, misrepresentations, omissions and outright lies. And it's not just the Bush and Kerry campaigns airing this garbage. So are interest groups aligned with the candidates. They have more money than integrity, and they don't care because they know these attack ads work. It is cynical politics at its worst, and voters should be offended. The Bush and Kerry campaigns, in effect, are saying to them: You're too dumb and lazy to separate fact from fiction and you believe anything you see on television. You want to hear the truth? The truth is we don't respect you enough to tell you the truth.

Political advertising has always taken liberty with the facts, but with every new election cycle the dishonesty further cheapens the political debate and raises doubts about the character of the candidates.

In its political advertising, the Bush campaign charges that the president's Democratic challenger would raise taxes by $900-billion in his first 100 days in office. The fact is that Kerry has no such plan. He has said he would push to repeal the Bush tax cuts that went to taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 and target more tax relief to middle-income families.

For its part, the Kerry campaign has been running television ads charging that "George Bush says sending jobs overseas makes sense for America." The only problem is that Bush said no such thing. One of Bush's economic advisers said in a report to Congress that cheaper production costs overseas offer long-term benefits for the American economy. Most economists agree.

A Bush ad says Kerry "wants to raise gasoline taxes by 50 cents a gallon." Ten years ago Kerry flirted with the idea of a higher gasoline tax, but he never proposed one and has since rejected the idea.

A Kerry ad asserts that "the Supreme Court is one vote from repealing a woman's right to choose" an abortion. The fact is that there is a 6-3 majority on the court supporting Roe vs. Wade. This ad aims to scare women.

A Bush ad accuses Kerry of having "supported higher taxes over 350 times." That's a ridiculous charge. The Bush campaign's bizarre math includes Kerry's votes to maintain tax rates where they are or cut them less than Republicans wanted. So if Kerry voted to cut a tax rate by 10 percent, instead of the 20 percent proposed by Republicans, that would be a vote for higher taxes, according to the Bush campaign.

Some candidates can't resist exaggerating their own records. A Kerry ad, for example, claims that he cast the "decisive" Senate vote for President Clinton's 1993 economic plan that, according to Kerry, "created 20-million new jobs." The bill did pass the Senate by a single vote, but any senator who voted for it could claim that he cast the "decisive" vote. And, according to a recent story in the New York Times, even economists who credit the Clinton plan with playing a significant role in the economic good times of the 1990s say Kerry goes way too far in claiming the legislation created 20-million jobs.

So are the voters buying this stuff? Apparently, many of them are.

The Annenberg Center, University of Pennsylvania, recently did a survey of voters in the 18 swing states where the Bush and Kerry campaigns have concentrated their advertising. Guess what? The poll found that 61 percent believed Bush favors sending American jobs overseas, and that 46 percent of the respondents believed Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents a gallon.

As I've said before, the biggest problem in American politics is not the amount of money that is raised and spent but the lack of honest political debate. And no law can fix that problem. It can be said of this presidential campaign that never has so much money been spent to mislead so many voters.

- Philip Gailey's e-mail address is

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 23:52:18]

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