Debating the debate: Facts and whoppers

October 23, 2012
By

I went on Charlie Langton’s radio talk show this morning to discuss Monday’s presidential debate, with the affable Langton serving as moderator as Henry Payne and I debated the outcome of the debate.

Payne, an editorial cartoonist at The Detroit News and editor of an online publication called The Michigan View, carried the conservative flag as I offered a progressive perspective.

Because Langton’s WXYT audience is mostly right-wingers, the deck is always stacked in favor of whomever I’m up against, and the majority of callers tend to support the other side. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how many people are lined up against you if the facts are on your side.

So, when Payne started spouting Mitt Romney’s oft-repeated claim that that Barack Obama set off on an “apology tour” of the Middle East soon after becoming president, I did my best to call him out, saying the claim just wan’t true.

Payne held his ground as we went to break, and I asked Langton to find some independent fact checker to determine who was telling the truth. The host picked up a copy of the morning’s Free Press, which had this to say about the issue:

“Romney has been using the ‘apology tour’ characterization during the campaign to suggest that Obama hasn’t given primacy to U.S. interests. But Obama didn’t apologize on that trip. In his Cairo address, he did call the Iraq invasion a ‘war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.’

“In Strasbourg, Obama said the U.S. ‘has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive’ toward Europe’s role in the world — and he chided Europe for ‘an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious.’”

So, let’s repeat: Obama didn’t apologize on that trip.

Off air, Payne sniffed that this was coming from the liberal Free Press. And then, when back on the air, Payne went on parroting Romney’s mischaracterization.

Back at the office, a little more checking turned up this from the Washington Post’s fact-check blog:

“Obama is right — every fact checker has said the so-called ‘apology tour’ did not happen.’ The paper, in fact, gave the false claim a 4-Pinocchio rating, making it exactly what the president said it was: a whopper.”

As for the tone of the debate, Payne saw Romney as acting all “presidential” while the actual president was being snide and rude.

But in the first debate, Obama’s performance was criticized for being far too passive, especially for someone trying to remain commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation on the planet.

Having watched the debate at a Republican gathering in Oakland County, this much is clear: There are a lot of people out there who have a deep-seated, visceral hatred of this president, and no matter what he does, the right is going to generate squalls of criticism.

So, Romney can badly mix up his Middle Eastern geography, as he did when, criticizing the president’s handling of problems in both Syria and Iran, claiming that “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.”

As numerous fact checkers pointed out, Iran has a large southern coastline with access to both the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Oh, and Iran has no land border with Syria.

But we’re all entitled to make mistakes. And there’s a big difference between erring and deliberately spouting revisionist crapola, which Romney is doing when it comes to his opposition to efforts that helped rescue the U.S. auto industry — a subject of no small interest to Michigan voters.

Here’s what the president had to say in response to Mitty’s most recent claims on that issue:

“Gov. Romney, you keep on trying to airbrush history here. You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies, even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn’t true. They would have gone through a liquidation.”

And here’s what the fact checkers at the Associated Press determined:

“It’s true that Romney didn’t preach liquidation of GM and Chrysler and that he saw his approach as a way to save the auto companies. But his was an improbable course. Opposing a government bailout, Romney instead favored private loans to finance the automakers’ restructuring in bankruptcy court. His proposed government loan guarantees would only have come after the companies went through bankruptcy. At the time, however, both automakers were nearly out of cash and were bad credit risks. The banking system was in crisis and private money wasn’t available. So without hefty government aid, the assets of both companies probably would have been sold in liquidation auctions.”

General Motors, liquidated. Chrysler, liquidated. And Michigan’s entire economy devastated.

Obama didn’t come through the debate without a few falsehoods of his own. When Romney boasted of a college scholarship program he helped implement for Massachusetts students while governor, Obama attempted to call him out, saying the program had been put in place before Romney took office.

Wrong.

But that’s a minor issue. What’s truly disturbing is the president’s assertion that money saved from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq can be applied to nation-building here at home.”

Here’s what the AP had to say about that one:

“If Romney’s ‘apology tour’ was a campaign whopper, so has been Obama’s repeated claim that ending expensive wars meant the U.S. now has money to spend at home. There is no such peace dividend because the wars were financed largely by borrowing.”

So, who won the debate?

In large part, the answer depends on the politics of the viewer. That Oakland County crowd of Republicans clearly saw Romney as the winner, with that uppity Obama (who, despite all evidence to the contrary, is both a commie and a Muslim, because they have the videos to prove it) clearly the loser.

But for that crowd, the president could say “water is wet” and they’d call him a liar.

From the viewpoint of progressives, this is far from a perfect president. But damn, give the guy credit. He came into office with two wars under way and the economy in freefall.

No president in modern history has assumed the job under more desperate circumstances, and that includes FDR, who only had the Great Depression to deal with when he was first sworn in.

For the facts-be-damned crowd, though, that doesn’t matter. They’d rather believe the lies, and keep perpetrating them.