Who Lied the Most at Wednesday’s Debate?

The reviews are in on Wednesday’s presidential debate, and they’re scathing for President Obama from left, right and center. If his debate performance was a Broadway show, it would have been produced by Max Bialystock.

And now the fact checkers have pored through the transcripts in search of lies, damned lies and statistics.

How did the candidates rate? High on truthiness, as Jon Stewart might put it, lower on truth.

I’ve gone through four fact checks—by FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, the AP, and Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post—and the good  news is there were few if any outright lies, but there was plenty of fudging and spinning. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did a better job of the latter, and that’s one reason he won.

According to PolitiFact, the president made two true statements, three mostly true statements, and three half-true assertions. Romney had one true and one mostly true utterance, three half-true assertions and two mostly false statements.

Mitt Romney and President Obama with Jim Lehrer at the first presidential debate in Denver.

By that low standard,  the president was overall more truthful, but he had his moments. Here are the debate’s three biggest untruths:

Romney’s $5 trillion tax cuts. That was based on a projection that Romney’s proposed 20% cut in marginal tax rates would add $500 billion to the deficit in 2015. Romney has said he would offset that with cuts in deductions and exemptions, but he hasn’t spelled out how. No one has made the math work.

At the debate, Romney said he wouldn’t cut taxes if it increased the deficit or raised taxes on the middle class. President Obama called him on that flip flop. His running mate Paul Ryan, confronted with the $5 trillion in cuts by Chris Wallace, repeatedly said they would be “revenue-neutral” but averred that cutting taxes was more important than budget cutting anyway.

President Obama’s $4 trillion in deficit reduction. This was smoke and mirrors at its finest. It includes $1.7 trillion in spending cuts  already agreed to by Congress after the debt ceiling debacle and assumes the Bush tax cuts would be revoked for top earners—a dicey proposition. Beyond that, the president has proposed few initiatives to reduce debt—totaling closer to $2 trillion altogether.

Medicare. Romney repeated the claim that the president would divert $716 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare, when actually the president was reducing the growth in future Medicare spending. The president said Romney wanted to turn Medicare into a voucher system—which the fact checkers say is mostly true—but he used an outdated number from the first Ryan Plan on Medicare  to claim that the changes would cost seniors an average $6,000 a year. It would be much less under the most recent Ryan Plan.

The president had some fertile ground to go after Romney Wednesday night, but he pulled his punches. And for people just tuning in who don’t follow the policy debates, Romney was the stronger candidate. In the end, that may matter more than all the Truth-o- Meters and Pinocchios handed out by fact checkers.



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