With the economic shoe on the other foot, now it’s GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney who uses the attack lines honed by Kerry — and President Obama who relies on Bush’s strained economic accounting.
Such manipulation of statistics is standard fare for political campaigns, which is one reason why voters should always take such claims with a grain of salt. Yet something deeper and more disturbing is also affecting the political system.
With the conclusion of the back-to-back political conventions, it is clear that both parties occupy parallel universes, with their own narratives and starkly different philosophies. The Fact Checker column tries to steer clear of philosophical disputes, but increasingly claims made by politicians are geared for the echo chamber of the party faithful.
As Democrats gathered in Charlotte for their convention, for instance, some readers raised questions about the opening line of a brief history of the political party on its Web site: “For more than 200 years, our party has led the fight for civil rights, health care, Social Security, workers’ rights, and women’s rights.”
The sentence, and the accompanying history, seemed determined to airbrush out of existence the Democrats’ troubled history on race relations, which lasted until the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson firmly turned the bulk of the party in a new direction. (Still, 80 percent of the “no” votes in the Senate came from Democrats; the legislation would not have passed without the decisive support of Republicans.)
Meanwhile, Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), in a speech to the convention Thursday evening, gave Democrats full credit for passage of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, declaring that Republicans just “cursed the darkness” and “stood on the sidelines” when that legislation emerged from Congress.
In fact, Social Security passed with significant Republican support and Medicare was adopted with “yes” votes by a majority of Republicans in the House and a significant minority in the Senate.
(Clyburn said these words even after his revisionist history was criticized by FactCheck.org and had received Four Pinocchios from this column, based on an advance text distributed by Democrats.)
The bipartisan majorities of those past achievements are much less likely now. Back then, voting broke more along regional divisions rather than party lines, with southern Democrats in opposition and northern Republicans in support of such federal expansion of benefits. Many of those southern Democrats have since become Republicans, while the Northeast especially has turned largely Democrat.