The fine print in Obama’s ‘Promises Kept’ ad

at 06:02 AM ET, 01/06/2012

One of the key issues in any president’s reelection campaign is whether he has kept his promises. So a web video released this week by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with the Iowa caucuses, can be seen as an example of the White House laying the groundwork for making the case that the president has kept his promises.

 The video shows Obama making his victory speech four years ago in Iowa, and then interjects it with headlines showing how the president has met his pledge. The overall result is slick, but a careful viewer will note that the words that follow in the headlines do not always quite match up with the president’s words.

 The Obama campaign provided extensive documentation--13 pages!--on their assertions in this ad. We have included a copy of the documention at the end so readers can judge for themselves. But we think this is an object lesson in how political ads can leave a misleading impression.

“I’ll be a president who finally makes health care affordable and available to every single American.”

--Obama 2008 speech

 “Passed the Affordable Care Act to make health care more affordable for more than 30 million Americans.”

--headline after his statement

 

No matter what one thinks of Obama’s health care law, it was certainly a signature legislative achievement—the most sweeping health care law since the creation of Medicare. But notice that Obama said he would bring health care to “every single American,” but the headline simply says “more than 30 million Americans.”

 That translates into 95 percent of nonelderly Americans—when the law is fully implemented in 2016.  That is certainly an increase over the 82-percent level that would have been expected in the absence of the law, but it is not “every single American.”

Moreover, at this point it is debatable whether the law has made health care more affordable. Insurance premiums have gone up, in part because of new benefits mandated by the law. The Obama fact sheet cites a number of studies (many by Families USA, a pro-health care group) suggesting costs will go down for Americans because of the law; opponents can point to other studies, such as by the Congressional Budget Office, that costs could go up.

 

“I will be a president who ends tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and put a middle-class tax cut into the pockets of working Americans who deserve it.”

--Obama 2008 speech

 “Cut taxes for 95% of working families and closed corporate loopholes that were sending profits overseas.”

--headline after his statement

 

We have no quibble with the tax-cut claim but the “ship jobs overseas” language immediately jumped out at us because Obama’s efforts to get this proposal enacted into law have repeatedly died in Congress.

 Notice that the headline speaks of “sending profits overseas”—not sending jobs overseas.

The Obama campaign says this refers to a single loophole (not “loopholes”) that was closed. The loophole had allowed companies to avoid U.S. taxes on foreign profits while receiving a tax credit for taxes paid to foreign governments. Our friends at Politifact had previously faulted Obama for suggesting that closing this loophole had anything to do with shipping jobs overseas.

Here, the Obama campaign is trying to have its cake and eat it too, by quoting Obama and then running a headline that is factually correct but has nothing to do with his previous statement.

 

“I will be a president who harnesses the ingenuity of farmers and scientists and entrepreneurs to free the nation from the tyranny of oil once and for all.”

--Obama 2008 speech

 “Put in place historic fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks to lower costs at the pump and reduce dependence on foreign oil.”

--headline after his statement

 Strangely, the headline does not try to back up Obama’s pledge. But the Obama fact sheet provides some evidence of how the administration has invested in clean energy (no mention of the Solyndra controversy!) and how foreign oil imports have fallen.

But the phrase “lower costs at the pump” is not proven at all, and appears to be an effort to gloss over the fact the gasoline prices have risen sharply since Obama took office. (A president, of course, has little to do with rising oil prices.)

 

“I’ll be a president who ends this war in Iraq and finally brings our troops home.”

--Obama 2008 speech

 “Ended the war in Iraq”

--headline after his statement

 No argument there, though there is no mention of the fact that Obama significantly boosted troop levels in Afghanistan.

 

We asked the Obama campaign for comment. “President Obama’s record is clear – he’s ended the war in Iraq, made health care more affordable and accessible for Americans, cut taxes for working families while closing corporate tax loopholes and reduced our dependence on foreign oil,” said Obama campaign deputy press secretary Kara Carscaden. “Those achievements stand in stark contrast to our Republican opponents, who want to reverse the progress we’ve made and undo the promises we’ve kept.”

 

The Pinocchio Test

 So has Obama kept these promises? The ad slickly suggests he did, but the disconnect between his words and some of the headlines is jarring, particularly in the case of cracking down on companies that ship jobs overseas. A word to the wise when watching these types of ads—read the fine print very carefully

 One Pinocchio

 



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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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