True to the fledgling tradition of televised political debates, the truth underwent fudging by both sides at last night's vice-presidential match in Philadelphia.
While Vice President Bush lost his memory about his opinion on nuclear war, Democratic candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro wandered from the facts about Supreme Court appointments.
In the post-debate scramble to set the record straight, Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale released information about his tax returns, which became an issue in the debate.
Bush denied last night that he had described nuclear war as winnable. However, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in February 1980, he was asked if there were not a point with strategic weapons where "you can wipe each other out so many times it really doesn't matter whether you're 1 or 2 percent lower or higher?"
Bush responded, "Yes, if you believe there is no such thing as a winner in a nuclear exchange, that argument makes a little sense. I don't believe that."
Asked by Times reporter Robert Scheer how one wins in a nuclear exchange, Bush responded:
"You have a survivability of command in control, survivability of industrial potential, protection of a percentage of your citizens, and you have a capability that inflicts more damage on the opposition than it can inflict upon you. That's the way you can have a winner . . . ."
Ferraro charged that the Republican platform includes a "litmus test" for Supreme Court justices on the abortion issue, blurring the separation of church and state. The platform states only that appointees should support "the sanctity of innocent human life."
Ferraro also said she had been "told that the Rev. Jerry Falwell has been told that he will pick two of our Supreme Court justices."
Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, was quoted last Feb. 4 in The Washington Post as telling an evangelical convention, where Reagan had just appeared, that he hoped "in Ronald Reagan's next five years in office we will get at least two more appointments to the Supreme Court" who could swing "a 5-4 decision" against abortion.
When Bush said last night that spending for food stamps was "way way up," he contradicted the Office of Management and Budget. Expenditure in fiscal 1984 of $11.8 billion, adjusted for inflation, represents a 9 percent cut from the peak three years ago, OMB says.
Regarding Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Bush was again wrong and Ferraro correct. The OMB says changes by the administration have reduced benefits outlays by 21 percent since 1981.
Congressional Budget Office figures, adjusted for inflation, show that, over the past four fiscal years, financing for food stamps was $7 billion and AFDC $4.8 billion, a 13 percent decrease for each.
Ferraro mentioned Reagan's "$750 billion tax cut" but neglected to note an offsetting tax increase of about $250 billion.
Bush incorrectly stated that Congress had backed the administration-supported mining of Nicaraguan harbors. Ferraro correctly countered that Congress had not.
Both candidates were wrong about who turned down the U.S.-Soviet "walk in the woods proposal" for a compromise on intermediate-range nuclear weapons. Leaders of both nations rejected it. Bush said Moscow rejected it, Ferraro said it was the United States.
In his closing statement, Bush criticized Mondale for saying in the presidential debate Sunday that he wanted to "repeal tax indexing." Bush neglected to mention that Mondale subsequently said he had misstated his position. Mondale now says he would delay full indexing temporarily for those whose income exceeds $25,000.
In Miami Beach last night, Mondale aides responded to Bush's suggestions during the debate that Mondale may have paid tax on a small proportion of his income.
Mondale has been criticizing Bush for paying tax on about 13 percent of his income last year. Bush said last night that the 13 percent figure referred only to federal taxes. The rate of state, local and federal taxes was closer to 42 percent, he said, and he asked what Mondale's was.
Mondale aides said that, in 1981, Mondale's adjusted gross income was $434,076 and he paid 51 percent in taxes, including 40 percent in federal taxes. In 1982, the aides said, his adjusted gross income was $408,254 and he paid 39 percent in federal taxes. Last year, Mondale paid 32 percent of his adjusted gross income of $295,590 in federal taxes, the aides said.