Drum on Political Lies vs. Deception

No time to obsess, but I loved this piece from Kevin Drum the other day: We Should Focus on Deception, Not Lying.

There are two big problems with getting obsessed about “lies.” The first is that it’s usually too hard to prove. You have to show not only that something is unquestionably factually wrong, but that the speaker knew it was wrong. That’s seldom possible. The second problem is that it’s too narrow. Politicians try to mislead voters all the time, and only occasionally do they do this with flat-out lies. Bottom line: if you focus only on actual lies, you miss too much. But if you try to turn everything into a lie, you sound like a hack.

A better approach is to focus instead on attempts to mislead. But how do you judge that? A few years ago I developed a three-part test that I use to check my immediate emotional reaction to things politicians say. I’ve found it pretty useful in practice, though it’s not perfect and it doesn’t apply to every kind of slippery statement.

Did I mention that I love this piece? I do.

26 Responses to “Drum on Political Lies vs. Deception”

  1. shcb Says:

    I keep seeing these anti Romney adds that say he will end abortion even in cases of incest and rape. I’m wondering why you guys aren’t yelling and screaming that Obama and whoever is the VP are lying!!!! (Or deceiving, whichever, sorry JBC, these guys won’t be able to stop saying lying for more than a day or two they are too emotional.) Oh my god! They are the worst liars since, well, ever! Exactly how would Romney, or any president, stop abortion? Doesn’t a few hundred good ole boys from Congress have a voice n that decision? Now the adds say Romney has supported legislation in the past that would end abortion, maybe so, don’t know what they are referring to but he simply doesn’t have the power as president. Just another case of a little bit a truth with a little bit of fear stir it all up in a perfectly produced add with talented actors looking all worried for base pay, roll it out to uninformed voters and hope it sticks.

    Here’s another one, the Republicans make a big deal out of the welfare plan that Clinton signed, they underline, italicize and bold face Clinton, but Clinton had to be dragged kicking and screaming to sign that bill, he vetoed it a number of times as I recall before the R’s figured some way to force him to sign, that was then, this is now. Then it worked in the R’s favor to say he only signed it under duress, now it suits them to make it seem like he was whistling a happy tune in the Rose Garden on his way to signed the bill.

  2. enkidu Says:

    Reality check: maybe because the official GOP platform includes a plank that bars abortion even in cases of (legitimate?) rape or incest. Todd Akin and Paul Ryan (note, as a fig leaf towards politeness I didn’t type Lyin) have co-sponsored bills that would ban abortions even in cases of rape or incest? Oh I know Mitt Rmoney is the top of the ticket and his position is _ _ (insert whatever position might pander to current listener/reader/voter) _ _. We all know Mitt is _ _ (insert vacuous platitude, something the opposite of flip flopping tax cheat) _ _.

    But why let reality get in the way of a good (if egregiously misspelled) wwnj rant.

  3. shcb Says:

    but that isn’t the point, the point is the deceptive nature of the add is that Romney WILL abolish abortion, as Drum points out, and I did like this Drum piece, I don’t like many of his but I think this one is good, as he points out the message is deceptive because Romney, or Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, can’t abolish abortion.

  4. shcb Says:

    Also according to this NY times article Romney does not support a ban in cases of rape and incest

    The timing of the approval of the Republican anti-abortion plank was awkward for Mitt Romney, who has denounced Mr. Akin’s comments about rape and abortion and who has said that he supports exceptions to allow abortions in cases of rape. And it comes as his selection of his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, was already drawing scrutiny for his support for a more absolute ban on abortions, even in cases of rape or incest.

    On top of that the plank calls for a constitutional amendment, meaning the states would have to ratify it after congress passed the bill, then the Supremes’ would get involved etc. but the add clearly says that Romney will end abortion.

    Where are the left wing “fact checkers” on this one?


  5. enkidu Says:

    Perhaps you could point us to this ad (not add) that you are worked up about?
    Is it from the Obama campaign or an outside group?

    Fact remains that the no exceptions language is the official platform of the GOP. You and Todd Akin and the rest of your thuggish crew shouldn’t be making any choices for American women. Facts is facts. Up is up. 2+2=4. etc

    btw – when are you going to keep to your word wwnj?

    Reality calling, care to comment on the charts like you said you would?





  6. shcb Says:

    Next time I see the AD not add, thanks, I will see who is backing it. Thanks for reminding me of the chart, I had forgotten about that.

  7. shcb Says:

    Is there an article that went with that think progress chart? If you don’t have it handy I’ll see if I can find it

  8. shcb Says:

    I’ve looked into those charts. This is what Drum and by extension JBC are talking about with distinctions between lies and deceptions, below is a link to the full graph in your ABC chart, it is from a group called FactCheck.org, don’t know anything about them, don’t know if they are right, left, neutral. The ABC graph is private sector and the Fact Check is government and private so they aren’t exactly apples to apples but it shows what happens if you selectively truncate a chart tor effect.

    This also explains your other chart, Bush started out with a moderately weak economy (in terms of these graphs) that took some time to come back, it then had moderate growth for an extended period of time before it tanked, the recovery was as rapid as the collapse to a point and has now stagnated except for a brief spike of the census. So picking the start of each man’s terms, while valid, may not show the whole picture.

    From here a rational person can make some valid observations, predictions, decisions etc, but not from the cherry picked charts.


  9. enkidu Says:

    It is funny how every ‘discussion’ with a hard line wwnj eventually boils down to the equivalent of: 2+2=purple, up is down, let’s discuss this, no this, nope this other thing that is utter nonsense! socialism!


    How can you look at this chart and say Obama is a failure? We’ve got steady (if tepid) growth and stability (need more job growth, note not in China) after a brush with a Greater Depression (thx dumbya).

    your chart doesn’t matter, here is my chart. Your question, also doesn’t matter.

    It isn’t deception to look at the data and draw real world conclusions. I asked why wwnjs were declaring Obama a failure, you have no answer. Both of the charts in question (hey, if you can ignore my charts, I can ignore yours ;) are relevant to the question of Obama’s effectiveness at the job. These charts make a case that you simply cannot accept, so rejection is a foregone conclusion.



    “Well since 1961, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our economy produced 66 million private sector jobs. What’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 million!”

    Should we then talk about stock market performance? Meaningful regulation of financial markets? Useless wars wound down? The world’s Biggest Bad Guy™ feeding the fishes? or mb wwnj tea party morans bring about first ever downgrade of US debt rating? Only way you’ll win this is by having big lies pounded in by billions of dollars from wwnj billionaires (who will want a further lowering of their taxes and widening of their loopholes: example, under Paul Ryan’s plan Mitt Rmoney would pay less than a 1% fed tax (or something like that).

    Speaking of which, where are those 12 years of tax returns?
    You know, just like Pop released?


    Since he won’t release the actual data we are left to make a few educated guesses:
    1) Rmoney paid less than 13.9% for some or all of those years
    2) he probably took advantage of the tax amnesty from 2009
    3) he might have shafted the LDS church too
    Looks like Utah might be a battleground state.

    The actual debates will be a wipe out: facts vs flibbertygibbit

  10. shcb Says:

    I didn’t say Obama is a failure, not in my last post anyway, I think is a marginal president at best, slightly above Carter, but that isn’t what I said at all, again you are saying I said what you wish I had said so you can make your prepackaged rebuttal. In fact I said “From here a rational person can make some valid observations, predictions, decisions etc, but not from the cherry picked charts.” meaning I think you could make many legitimate points about both presidencies, it seems to me neither has much of an edge from the full chart, that is the reason I don’t use your cherry picked chart because it is incomplete, something I suspected. Why would your ABC chart only use one year of one presidency and three and a half of another? These are the red flags that should be raised in your mind if you are engaged in actural critical thinking. At least your second chart uses the same time period from both presidencies, it uses the same economic indicators, it is to that degree legitimate. Then if you put the two together you can start to draw some conclusions that are based on rational thought processes, now two rational people may not come to the same conclusions because they have different goals but they should at least be able to agree that the other’s point is valid, just wrong given the goals and vision of different people. That is why we have a vote.

    Then you just go off on another of your rants. Oh well, it’s always fun.

  11. shcb Says:

    Question: you say Romney paid less than 13.9% for some or all of those years, did he break any laws if he paid that rate?

  12. enkidu Says:

    I was asking a question (I provided a link to refresh your memory): How can one (as in you, me, anyone) look at this chart and say Obama is a failure? We’ve got steady (if tepid) growth and stability (need more job growth, note not in China) after a brush with a Greater Depression (thx dumbya).

    You’ve said he’s a failure or similar words, worse than Carter (snort!) now you say he’s better than Carter (well, it’s a start) etc etc.

    As to cherry picked charts, maybe the reason the first chart starts towards the end of the bush years is that is when the economy started to go into a very deep recession? Obama’s Presidency hasn’t been defined by the recovery, as it is just one in a litany of achievements. I agree to some degree with Steve’s post here http://www.lies.com/wp/2012/08/30/the-president-we-deserve/#comment-332127

    I can see two differences between Romney and Obama:

    1) Gay rights
    2) Obamacare

    I can see tons of similarities:

    3) Deference to the rich
    4) Civil liberties infringements
    5) Foreign policy
    6) War on Drugs/Terror
    7) Desire to cut entitlements
    8) Abortion
    9) Power of lobbyists

    But in a hypothetical Romney administration, how much worse would you think items 3 thru 9 might be compared to an Obama administration? Worse.

    Note, I’ve edited Steve’s list by changing the numbers in the second half there. It isn’t ‘deception’ or lies. I made that change to make it easier for the reader to understand. So that I could refer easily to 3 thru 9. I’m making my case. I’m not required to make your case for you.

  13. shcb Says:

    Better or worse on 3 througn 9 would depend on one’s prioriities, the same change in one of those areas would probably be viewed as being better or worse by both of us, we are so opposed in so many ways.

    I think this administration, or at least this term will be viewed as a failure because of persistant high unemployment and running up the debt, just as Bush’s presidency will be termed less than sucessful because of the high debt. Long term debts due to socialized healthcare will also be viewed as a negative since it will perpetually increase either taxes or debt, except by the left who will view it as worthwhile no mater the cost. He has not been good in foreign relations, although he hasn’t been devistatingly bad either. The only area he has been between good to maybe a little better than good is militarily. The biggest mistake he keeps making there is giving deadlines, the good thing is he rarely keeps those deadlines.

    As far as your chart goes, you are right, if you look at your incomplete and deceptive chart you simply have to admit he has been a much greater succsess than Bush.

  14. NorthernLite Says:


    Your argument about the ad doesn’t make much sense. This is the way it goes in campaigns. Just like the R’s say ‘Obama wants to takeover healthcare’ or ‘Obama wants to raise your taxes’…Well Obama can’t do anything that Congress doesn’t pass, right?

    So if you find it a stretch for a group to say Romney doesn’t support abortions in the case of rape and incest – even though he did not that long ago, even though that’s the official policy of the party he’s leading, and even though his VP and 200 (or so) House Republicans passed a bill just last year calling for exactly that – then I’m not sure you have a good grasp of reality.

    Yet you’re perfectly fine with taking some words way out of context and defining a whole campaign around it?

    By the way: Roads, bridges and water systems don’t get built from money stashed in Swiss bank accounts. Romney hasn’t built shit.

  15. NorthernLite Says:

    By the way…

    -Reagan – Debt up 188.6%
    -Bush Sr. – Debt Up 55.6%
    -Clinton – Debt Up 35.6%
    -Bush Jr. – Debt Up 89.0%
    -Obama Debt Up: 41.1% (during the second worst crash of all time. Not bad)

    Sometimes I think if you actually educated yourself on some facts you might discover that you’re really a Democrat, if you really believe what you say you believe.

  16. knarlyknight Says:

    Do you have a debt up under Carter? It must be huge, but that’d have a lot to do with very high inflation rates and turmoil from OPEC actions shocking our economies.

  17. shcb Says:

    Nl, I agree with you fully, it has always been a pet peeve of mine when a president says I will do this or that, the state of the union show is the worst. I agree both sides do it.

    Now there can be some legitimacy to a complaint of a president “taking over” something when they use executive orders or use regulations that they have control over that sidestep something congress should really be voting on, but that is different from an ad (did right this time) saying Obama will take away the second ammendment or Romney will end abortion. Facebook is such a great place to watch idiots engage in these follies.

    I’m not ok taking a few words out of context, as I said last week, use the whole quote, it doesn’t change the meaning. There is no way you can read that quote and not come away with he (and you) want equal outcome, not equal opportunity, and that is fine, that is your (and his) vision, that is why we hold elections.

    Not sure about your statistics, and there is a lot more to that than a few stats, Reagan for instance got snookered by congress, they promised to cut spending if he increased income and then didn’t, they the extra money and spent it like drunken sailors. You would have to look at those numbers closer than the bumper sticker you have shown

  18. enkidu Says:


    Carter Debt up 42.3%

    from wiki:

    1977–1981 (the Carter years)

    Start debt/GDP 35.8%

    End debt/GDP 32.5%

    Increase in debt
    +288 billion

    Increase debt/GDP in %

    Dang facts have such a liberal bias!

    We’re proud of Carter, he did a decent job and has only improved with age. Habitat for Humanity, Carter Center, peacemaker, statesman. What is W up to? Hiding. Trying not to remind folks who got us into the latest mess. Clearin brush and not traveling anywhere where he might get hauled off to the Hague.

  19. shcb Says:

    Carter is a wonderful man, so is his wife (is she still with us?) He just wasn’t a very good president, I’m glad you think so highly of him, maybe you could learn some gentlemanly manners from him, but no, he wasn’t a very successful president.

  20. shcb Says:

    Oh, the ad I was referring to is paid for by the Obama campaign

  21. knarlyknight Says:

    Carter made me proud to support America, he stood for noble ideas, unlike certain idiots … like this guy would be… http://www.upworthy.com/mitt-romney-accidentally-confronts-a-gay-veteran-awesomeness-ensues

  22. shcb Says:

    Yeah he was a good guy, behind the scenes he could be as deceitful as any politician but that is a job requirement, his presidency just wasn’t very successful. He has had one one the most successful post presidencies but even that has been problematic because there have been times he didn’t know his place.

  23. knarlyknight Says:

    You can say “he didn’t know his place” but, like Bush junior seizing control by creating a “unitary executive” in contrast to how everyone else thought the various branches of government should interact, it’s more accurate to say that Carter strove to re-define the role of an ex-president. To a lesser extent Clinton is following that example.

    In contrast, Bush jr. seems to be in hiding and fears appearances outside of the US.

  24. shcb Says:

    Tomato tomoto

  25. jbc Says:

    Hey, in case y’all have missed it, just wanted to call your attention to this:


  26. enkidu Says:

    Just to recap:

    – Carter – Debt up 42.3%
    – Reagan – Debt up 188.6%
    – Bush Sr. – Debt Up 55.6%

    – Clinton – Debt Up 35.6%
    – Bush Jr. – Debt Up 89.0%
    – Obama Debt Up: 41.1% (during the second worst crash of all time. Not bad)

    How can anyone (you, me, anyone) look at these numbers and conclude that the notion Rs/conservatives are the fiscally responsible party is anything other than a ‘manufactured fiction’?

    tomato, tomato (tomAAEtoe, tomAHHtoe)

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