The political whopper hall of shame
By Aaron Blake,
Over the course of a presidential campaign, a candidate will say many things. Increasingly, those comments are not only being written down, but recorded and videotaped for posterity. And these days, unfortunately for those candidates, for fact-checking. Despite the proliferation of fact-checking, the political lie is as old as the political campaign, and some of our most notable — and successful — politicians have made some well-documented flubs that will continue to tarnish their legacies. Here are three that stick out.
— Aaron Blake
“The fundamentals of the economy are strong.”
— Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008
Republican presidential candidate John McCain did his best Herbert Hoover impression here, professing the strength of the U.S. economy mere hours before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, one of the first big casualties of the Great Recession that followed.Then-President Hoover did the same in 1929, days before the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. It’s not clear that he knew that what he was saying was false. But McCain probably should have known that it’s better not to put lipstick on pig (so to speak). The economic collapse probably cost McCain the election regardless, but now one of the ugliest campaign quotes is attached to his name.
“Read my lips: No new taxes.”
— George H.W. Bush in 1988
Maybe the most famous six words during a campaign, George W. Bush’s big 1988 promise was lodged on the greatest stage of all: during his nomination-acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. And in equally grand form, it came back to bite him in his reelection bid four years later, when he confronted the fact that people had read his lips and he had raised taxes. Bush’s lie was compounded by the Republican Party’s devotion to low taxes. In 1992 Democratic nominee Bill Clinton was able to get to a GOP president’s right on that issue. A Republican without a lower-taxes platform is like a quarterback without a helmet. He may survive for a while because of his arms and legs, but eventually he’s going to get his head bashed in.
“We still seek no wider war.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964
This famous quotedogged Lyndon B. Johnson four years after it was uttered. He made the claim in 1964 when he was seeking his first full presidential term after the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Although the U.S. government said the incident resulted from North Vietnamese aggression, later reports suggested that the United States may have been the aggressor and that the path to war was already paved. So although McCain may have been mistaken and Bush may have intended not to raise taxes, Johnson’s words belied events that had already occurred — a burgeoning war in Southeast Asia. Within days, Congress authorized the use of force in Vietnam, and Johnson used it. He won easily in 1964 and didn’t have a bad run for a while. By 1968, however, he succumbed to a political situation of his own making and opted not to seek a second full term.
Aaron Blake is a political reporter for The Washington Post.