A serious non-fact from Obama’s Teddy Roosevelt speech

Looping back a week to Pres. Obama’s last major speech, the one in Kansas channeling Teddy Roosevelt and talking extensively about the maldistribution of U.S. wealth and income: an old friend of the blog urged me to read the fact-check of the speech by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post.

Kessler, as usual, did an excellent job of finding the half-truths and at least one important suspect “fact” for which the White House could not provide any meaningful backup. For example:

Obama referred to the Bush tax cuts as “for the wealthy,” even though those laws also cut taxes significantly for all income tax filers. Obama blamed Bush policies for poor job growth that continues to the present. Since Obama has been president for almost three years and has put in place major policies designed to spur job growth, Kessler suggests he needs to start taking some responsibility for the failure of Obamanomics to so far produce the results that its architects had hoped for and promised.

These are complicated arguments, not black and white issues of truth or falsity, but I appreciate Kessler’s approach, which is to add context so that a reader can understand which half of a half-truth is, let’s say, a self-serving oversimplification.

But one Obama statement was worse than that, which is why Kessler gave the speech “three pinocchios.”

Obama said flatly that: “Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent. One percent.”

He shouldn’t have said it.

To cut to the chase, the White House offers no backup for that statement other than a similar statement made on the air by a Bloomberg news correspondent doing a piece on rich people’s tax strategies, and even that correspondent offered no examples, no backup and no hint of the source for the claim.

This was no off-the-cuff remark, but a statement in a major presidential address. It should be held the highest standard of accuracy and against that standard, it fails badly.

Politifact, by the way, followed Kessler and checked the same track and rated it “mostly false.”

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/14/2011 - 10:49 am.

    I agree. If we’re going to take chunks out of Newt Gingrich’s hide (and the hides of other Republicans as well) for half-truths and falsehoods, the same thing should be happening at the Obama end. This is a definite negative, and as Eric said, a presidential address ought to meet a very high standard for accuracy, of which that statement falls far short. Wonder where the “one percent” line came from?

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/14/2011 - 10:55 am.

    I’m sure the President meant “effective tax rate”. Some of the ultra wealthy pay no taxes, like the hedge fund managers who get “carried interest” rather than income.


    Everyone needs to be held to high standards of truth. I’m waiting for the media to start holding right wing politicians to those standards.

  3. Submitted by Don Medal on 12/14/2011 - 03:18 pm.

    I think the word “rate” kills any validity in the statement.

    If only two billionaires pay no taxes then a statement could have been made “some billionaires pay less than one percent” with truthfulness.

    “Rate” implies this is built into the code.

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