It’s the morning after the big CNN Democratic Presidential Debate, and the hot-takes, they are a-hummin’. My own Solomonic take is that Hillary Clinton was the overall winner, while Bernie Sanders had the biggest moment, and Martin O’Malley improved his position the most. But the biggest loser, even bigger than Lincoln “My Dad Died” Chafee, was the fact-checking industrial complex. After making easy work of two Republican debates that featured more and bigger whoppers than the Burger King’s wettest dream, fact-checkers had to dig deep to find fault with the Democratic candidates.
Take FactCheck.org, for example. They compiled a measly eight bullet points on the Dems, and on closer inspection, most of those were blanks.
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revised her earlier statement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, claiming that she said she “hoped” it would be a “gold standard.” At the time, she said it was a gold standard.
What we’ve got here is essentially a distinction without a difference. That “gold standard” quote, in its entirety, is a self-evident expression of Clinton’s confidence that the final deal would be great, since she said it while the negotiations still had years to go. She obviously wasn’t claiming to know the future. You can argue that “hoped” is the glossiest possible interpretation, but it is a fair one, since one definition of “hope” is to “expect with confidence.” Whether or not you think Hillary’s arc on TPP was sincere, these statements are not inconsistent.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed that his plan to lift the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes would extend the program’s finances and expand benefits. He neglected to mention that the new taxes would not be used to calculate benefits for those paying them, a break from historical practice.
In other words, “true.” You could reasonably argue the omission was deceptive if there were one reasonable person who would have known enough to care about this issue, but not enough to understand that Bernie didn’t intend for Social Security to pay out millions to zillionaires.
- Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley claimed that “70 percent of us are earning the same, or less than we were 12 years ago.” Not true. Average weekly earnings for rank-and-file workers are up 5.8 percent.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings for all workers in real dollars have increased by four dollars in 12 years, so it sounds to me like O’Malley’s 70% figure was actually generous.
- Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee said that his state “had the biggest drop of the unemployment rate over my four budgets of all but one state.” Actually, four states had larger percentage point drops, and 10 states had larger percentage declines over his tenure.
Even by FactCheck’s reckoning, Chafee got pretty close, but theirs is not an apples-to-apples comparison. FactCheck cited Chafee’s “tenure,” which would have included the previous governor’s budget, while Chafee cited his “four budgets,” the last of which would have outlasted his tenure as governor.
- Sanders claimed that African American youth unemployment was 51 percent, but that figure pertains to underemployment, which includes those working part-time and looking for full-time work.
This might sound like a small deal, but it’s a stat that Sanders loves to quote on the stump to support his contention that his economic message should resonate above everything else to black voters. No one would argue that things aren’t worse for black people, but as CNN points out, the contrast in Sanders’ figures isn’t what he makes it out to be:
The comparable number for whites is 33.8%.
The official unemployment rate for black youth, age 16 to 24, was 20.7%. For Hispanic youth, it’s 12.7%, while for white youth, it’s 10.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government data is not limited to high school graduates and has a wider age range.
That’s still double the white youth unemployment rate, but it makes a less compelling case that economics trumps the urgency of other black issues.
- Clinton claimed that “we lose 90 people a day from gun violence.” That’s true, but only a third of those deaths are from homicides.
In other words, “That’s true.” Since when are suicides and getting shot by your dog not violent?
- Sanders wrongly said that the U.S. had “more wealth and income inequality than any other country.” The U.S. ranks 42nd in income inequality and 16th in terms of wealth held by the top 1 percent.
There are a lot of ways to slice and dice these figures, but in Sanders’ favor is a Pew analysis that found the U.S. was tenth among developed nations in terms of income inequality, but that after accounting for the redistributive effect of tax policies, we rose to second. In other words, every other country but one completely mitigated their ranking through redistributive policies.
- Clinton said that using a personal email account “was allowed by the State Department.” It was, but federal rules also required Clinton to turn over her emails before she left office. She did so nearly two years after she left.
Hillary, though, has said all along that she thought she was complying with the rule by emailing all of her recipients at dot gov accounts. Since there were emails that didn’t end up being archived that way, FactCheck can have this one, but they should have mentioned Hillary’s side of the story.
CNN’s fact check covered much of the same ground, rating just three out of nine claims “false,” but the one thing they checked that FactCheck didn’t was Sanders’ record on guns. They rated “false” his assertion that “of course not,” he hadn’t voted in favor of protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits. In one of the stronger moments of the debate, Martin O’Malley set the record straight on just what the law Sanders supported did:
O’Malley: Sandy and Lonnie Phillips are here from Colorado. And their daughter, Jessie, was one of those who lost their lives in that awful mass shooting in Aurora.
Now, to try to transform their grief, they went to court, where sometimes progress does happen when you file in court, but in this case, you want to talk about a — a rigged game, Senator? The game was rigged. A man had sold 4,000 rounds of military ammunition to this — this person that killed their daughter, riddled her body with five bullets, and he didn’t even ask where it was going.
And not only did their case get thrown out of court, they were slapped with $200,000 in court fees because of the way that the NRA gets its way in our Congress and we take a backseat. It’s time to stand up and pass comprehensive gun safety legislation as a nation.
Sanders: I think the governor gave a very good example about the weaknesses in that law and I think we have to take another look at it.
When you consider that the two Republican debates featured at least one false accusation of murder and at least one claim that vaccines cause autism (or as Republicans call it, “Tuesday”), the Democrats should be extra proud that no matter who won their debate, the facts didn’t lose.
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