Checking facts at the GOP convention

The speeches and celebrations are over, so it's time to fact-check statements coming out of the GOP convention.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
The speeches and celebrations are over, so it’s time to fact-check statements coming out of the GOP convention.

Political speeches are like TV commercials in that savvy listeners take what they hear with a good bit of skepticism. But voting is a far more serious responsibility than buying toothpaste. So let’s check some of the statements we’ve heard this week from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

We do so with the help of various news organizations:, a nonpartisan service from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and, a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly.

Sen. John McCain

“Senator Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power.” – From McCain’s speech Thursday.

Politifact: Half true 

It’s true that Obama has staunchly and repeatedly opposed expanded offshore drilling in the past. However, just last month, Obama said he would accept some drilling as part of a compromise bill that enacts broader energy reforms.

The New Energy Reform Act of 2008 calls for spending $84-billion over 10 years on research and development of better batteries, fuels and energy-saving technologies and includes tax incentives for people who buy hybrid and alternative-fuel cars and trucks. But it also would allow drilling for oil and natural gas as close as 50 miles from Florida’s west coast.

 “What I don’t want is for the best to be the enemy of the good,” Obama said. “If we can come up with a genuine bipartisan compromise, in which I have to accept some things I don’t like and the Democrats have to accept some things they don’t like, when it’s actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, I’m open to that.”

But McCain’s claim that Obama’s plan does not call for more nuclear power is not accurate.

Obama has said that nuclear power “has to be part of our energy mix” in attaining energy independence, though it does require environmental safeguards. He’s also said that he hopes developing technology will provide better answers to the problem of nuclear waste storage.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson

“He was offered medical care for his injuries if he would give up military information in return. John McCain said, ‘No.’ ” — From Thompson’s speech Tuesday.

Politifact: False

Thompson contradicted McCain’s own account in his autobiography, “Faith of My Fathers.” McCain had been gravely wounded when his Navy plane was shot down in 1967 in Vietnam.

At the camp POWs called the Hanoi Hilton, McCain initially refused his interrogators’ demands for information. But then, McCain recounts, he tried a different approach: “Desperate, I tried to bargain . . . ‘Take me to the hospital and I’ll give you the information you want.’ I didn’t intend to keep my word, reasoning that after my injuries had been treated, I would be strong enough to deal with the consequences of not holding up my end of the bargain.”

McCain also admits he eventually gave up information about his ship and Navy squadron. “I regret very much having done so,” he wrote.

Gov. Sarah Palin
“I told the Congress ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ on that Bridge to Nowhere.” — From Palin’s speech Wednesday.

PolitiFact: Half true

Palen was talking about a $398-million bridge project that became the subject of national ridicule and a symbol of federal pork-barrel spending. It was to connect the city of Ketchikan (population 8,200) to Gravina, an island with just 50 residents.

In 2005, Congress backed away from language specifically directing the money to that particular bridge and left it up to Alaska to decide which transportation projects would get the money. Still, Palin supported the project when she ran for governor in 2006. The state took the money, but spent much of it on other projects before Palin pulled the plug on the bridge in 2007.

Keith Ashdown, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense, the government watchdog that first drew attention to the project, said Palin has “hyper-inflated her role” in killing the project.

In its analysis of the point Palin was making with this statement, the Associated Press added: “As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million. In her two years as governor, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman
In the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama “has not reached across party lines to get anything significant done.” — From Lieberman’s speech Tuesday. False

Obama has reached across the aisle to craft noteworthy bills. For instance, he teamed up with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana on an initiative to lock down and secure both nuclear and conventional weapons worldwide, such as the shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles that have been proliferating in recent years.

Obama also worked with Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, to write the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 which created a searchable database the public can use to look up details on federal grants and contracts. Obama and Coburn also got together on a bill to prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from issuing open-ended, no-bid contracts for emergency response activities after abuses were found in post-Katrina contracting.

Barack Obama supports plans to raise “income taxes … payroll taxes.” — From Palin’s speech Wednesday.

Politifact: Half true

Obama wants to roll back the Bush tax cuts on the upper-income brackets. So the claim is true if you are a family making more than $250,000 a year, or a single person making more than $200,000. Otherwise, it’s generally not the case. In fact, Obama advocates eliminating income taxes for seniors with incomes less than $50,000.

The payroll tax claim is a little different. Obama proposes a $1,000 tax credit on income for working families ($500 for singles), to offset payroll taxes. So for most people, Obama is actually lowering payroll taxes. But he has said he would raise payroll taxes on people making higher incomes of about $250,000 in order to keep Social Security solvent. Currently, only the first $97,500 of a person’s income is taxable.

Obama voted “to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield.” — From Lieberman’s speech Tuesday.

Politifact: Barely true

In May 2007, Obama voted against an appropriations bill that included funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill did not include a requirement that President Bush begin to bring the troops home from Iraq, which is why Obama voted against it.

“We must fund our troops,” Obama said at the time. “But we owe them something more. We owe them a clear, prudent plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else’s civil war.”

If that counts as a vote to cut off funding for the troops, then Lieberman himself and almost every Republican in the Senate also voted to cut off the funding in April that year when they voted against a different appropriations bill. It would have funded operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it required Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, something Lieberman and the Republicans opposed.

In a very narrow sense, all of those votes were against military funding — a portion of which goes to equip and pay the troops. So there is a grain of truth to Lieberman’s attack. But it is misleading.

“That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay.” — From Palin’s speech Wednesday.

Politifact: True

Alaska’s jet plane was a major issue in the 2006 election, which Palin won. Then-incumbent Frank Murkowski had defied protests from members of the state Legislature and the public when he bought the jet in 2005 to travel around the state. His political opponents said the jet symbolized his arrogance and free-spending ways.

Palin defeated Murkowski in the Republican primary and then won the general election. She promised during the campaign to sell the jet, and one of her first orders on taking office was putting it on the market. The state listed it on eBay, asking $2.5-million. But it never got its asking price, and the jet eventually sold through an aircraft broker for $2.1 million.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
Palin “got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States.” — From Huckabee’s speech Wednesday.

Associated Press: False

Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor’s election, and 909 in her 1999 re-election race, for a total of 1,525. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia, where he was on the ballot during the 2008 presidential primaries.

MinnPost will do similar fact-check summary of statements coming from the Obama campaign. In the meantime, here’s a link to’s review fact-checking recent Obama statements.

Sharon Schmickle writes about national and foreign affairs and science. She can be reached at sschmickle [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by B Maginnis on 09/05/2008 - 01:57 pm.

    Yes, Sharon, please let us know when you will have your DNC analysis finished.

    Or were there no “facts” available from that blessed event?

    You sure learned your stuff at the Strib!

  2. Submitted by scott anderson on 09/05/2008 - 10:16 am.


    Where’s the article titled “Checking Facts at the DNC Convention”? It should have posted on this site the day after that convention, right?

    I can’t seem to find it.

    Hmm…do I smell double-standard? bias?

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/05/2008 - 04:01 pm.

    (Re: Scott Anderson’s accusation of bias)

    Hey Scott:

    Did it ever occur to you that Republicans simply lie more frequently than Democrats? There’s more reason to fact-check a group of proven criminals than those who simply want to spend the next four years (or more, hopefully) cleaning up the unprecedented mess that now exists, due to the policies of your people in Washington.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/05/2008 - 01:48 pm.

    I assume the RNC fact check was done because the reporters were actually at the convention vs. Denver?

  5. Submitted by Jason Walker on 09/05/2008 - 02:17 pm.

    I agree that most informed, intelligent people take these campaign lies with a grain of salt. However, the average American probably isn’t as informed or intelligent as that. A quarter of people polled recently think Barack Obama is a Muslim! Therefore, these campaign lies have a great effect because surely for every person who reads these truth reports there are 10 who will not, and therefore believe the lies to be fact. It’s no wonder we elect yahoos like George Bush, then, when the public is so grossly misinformed and ignorant to the facts.
    I support Obama. However, I also respect anyone’s decision to vote for McCain – or anybody – as long as it’s a decision made with intelligence.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/05/2008 - 03:07 pm.

    A Wasilla resident who wrote a comments-section note said that when Mayor Palin left office, their little town of 6000-7000 was $22 million in debt. There was no debt when she started that job. So much for “executive” experience.

    She also tried to get a town’s librarian to ban some books she personally did not like. The librarian stood firm.

  7. Submitted by Rex McKee on 09/05/2008 - 08:10 pm.

    I see that the ‘family values’ party has a problem with truthtelling. I am not at all surprised.

  8. Submitted by ben merton on 09/05/2008 - 05:59 pm.

    The following is a text (updated for honesty) of the Republican National Committee of Gov. Sarah Palin’s speech as prepared for delivery at the Republican National Convention:

    Mr. Chairman, delegates, and fellow citizens: I am honored to be considered for the nomination for Vice President of the United States…

    It’s too late now, vetters!… and so I accept the call to help our nominee for president to serve and defend America.

    The Democrats threw down the gauntlet, and now I’m ready to fight the overconfident opponents in this dangerous (9-ll)time for our country.

    John McCain is the only war hero in this election–so you CAN’T criticize pretty much everything bad you might dig up
    on him–and by extention myself. John McCain is the war and if you oppose John McCain, you spit on all the soldiers fighting for your freedom.

    It was just a year ago that the pollsters who measure public opinion wrote off John McCain, but the people knew better.

    And maybe that’s because the people realize there is a time for politics and a time for leadership … ignoring the first six years of Republican control of Congress under Bush, there is a time to campaign and a time to put our country first. And now that we’re campainging, we’ll put country first!

    John McCain supported the surge, and now, with the negotiation with Moktada al-Sadar and the paying off the Sunni guerrillas, victory shines like a light at the end of a tunnel.

    Our family prays, just like you–I mean you all here in this room–not the godless other half of America.

    Here’s my family. Just to set the record straight, Trig has special needs–and he’s mine, not Paige’s!

    To the families of special-needs children all across this country…

    I pledge to you that if a friend and advocate is someone who would cut the state’s special needs budget by 62%, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.

    Todd is a story all by himself. The liberal National Enquirer was absolutely right about John Edwards, but they are lying about my affair with Todd’s business partner.

    But he belongs to a union, and I know how much you all here support unions!

    And even though he takes cares for the children, he’s still a man–a world champion snow machine racer, in fact.

    And to all the Eskimo’s listening tonight, here’s another reason to vote for McCain/Palin–that’s right, I’m married to a Yup’ik Eskimo!

    I love my mom and dad, and among the many things I owe them is one simple lesson: that this is America. Oh,
    and, also that every woman can walk through every door of opportunity, especially the opportunity to choose life, even in the case of rape and incest.

    Let me tell you my own creation story. I was grown in a small town, just like Harry Truman–and that means that I’m honest, sincere, and have more dignity than those godless Democrats who are all from big cities. Not the Harry Truman
    who supported unions and national health insurance, just the one who grew up in a small town. We do all the hard work in America. We are all the farmers, factory workers, and soldiers.

    And we love our country no matter what corruption goes on in Washington for the past 1.7 years under the Democratic Rule.

    To all you former Hillary Supporters–I can wear a pant suit just like Hillary. I was just a hockey mom, and then just a PTA member, until I became just a city council member. And then I became the mayor of Wasilla without the need for sophisticated focus groups and voter profiles–because I knew every one of the 616 people who voted for me.

    Before the media elites make fun of me for that, let me explain to them what the job involves.

    I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a “community organizer,” except that you have actual responsibilities–
    like voting in the case of a tie. I was also responsible for banning inappropriate books, firing people who opposed me, and issuing gag orders.

    I might add that in my small town, when people don’t have the appropriate views on religion and guns–they’re fired!

  9. Submitted by ben merton on 09/05/2008 - 05:59 pm.

    As for my running mate, you can be certain that wherever he goes, and whoever is listening, John McCain is the same man.
    He may change is mind on tax cuts, immigration, and climate change, but he is physically the same person no matter where he goes.

    I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment. The GOP establishment helped me get started in Wasilla, but I became my own person by the next election.

    And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that being in the national spotlight is more intense than 6 straight months of Wasilla sunshine!

    But as a former weather reporter and basketball star, here’s a news flash to the Washington elites up in the booths:

    Like, I don’t need you guys! Like, get over yourselves. OK. I don’t need to mingle with your clique, I have my own. OK.

    Politics isn’t just a game of clashing parties and competing interests–although that is my favorite part.

    The right reason to play politics is to challenge the status quo.

    So if the status quo is abortion rights, I will challenge that, and if there are too many polar
    bears and not enough oil drilling, I will challenge that too!

    I have integrity, good will, clear convictions, and … a servant’s heart.

    I pledge to all Americans that I will serve in the same spirit that brought me to the governor’s office, when I took on the special interests and the lobbyists, and the good-ol’ boys network.

    Now the Democrats are going to point out that I hired Abramoff’s lobbyist to win $27 million for
    Wasilla, and that as governor I sought out $750 million in special ear marks for Alaska.
    But that happened before the pledge I just made, so it doesn’t count.

    I asked Congress for a $400 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents–and I said,
    “Thanks!” But when the Left-wing media labeled it “the Bridge to Nowhere,” I said, “No Thanks!”
    And then I accepted the money anyway without a specified earmark.

    But with the support of the citizens of Alaska, we shook things up–and we shook things down. In fact, we shook down Congress like a pitbull in a small town back alley!

    While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office that I didn’t believe our citizens should have to pay for.

    That $2.7 million luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay. Now there was only one bidder and that fell through, but I was still able to get $2.1 million for it! And this is how I will balance the Federal Budget!

    So now I am like the rest of you small town folks–I gave up flying to work, and my family no longer has a personal chef for all our meals.

    Our state budget is under control.

    We have a surplus. Not to take all the credit, but we have a surplus because of the taxes on oil revenue and rising gas prices–all of which I accomplished as a state executive!

  10. Submitted by ben merton on 09/05/2008 - 05:59 pm.

    The stakes for our nation could not be higher.

    We consume more energy per capita than any other nation, so the solution is not to conserve, but to focus solely on supply.

    In case you didn’t know this, We are too dependent on foreign sources of oil.

    And now let me share with my command of foreign policy.

    Russia is nextdoor to Alaska, and it wants to control a vital pipeline in the Caucasus,and to divide and intimidate our European allies by using energy as a weapon. Now normally, we shouldn’t care about the price of oil in Paris, but in this case it affects the price of energy in America as well.

    Since we can’t rely on our oil-supplying enemies or even friends, we need to be self-reliant.

    Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we’re going to lay more pipelines … build more nuclear plants … create jobs with clean coal … and to appease the environmentalists, let’s just say, we’ll “move forward” on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources.

    I’ve noticed a pattern with our opponent.

    Maybe you have, too.

    We’ve all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers.

    And there is much to like and admire about our opponent.

    But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.

    Obama did not sponsor the Lugar-Obama Bill to Keep Weapons Out of Terrorists’ Hands passed on December 11, 2006,
    nor did he sponsor the Lobbying-Ethics Bill signed by George Bush on September 15, 2007! These bills do not exist, and so we can’t legally intercept terrorists’ weapons, and you all can go to those lobby-sponsored parties during this convention.

    Now Obama is so arrogant that he won’t concede to our changing definition of “victory” in Iraq. When Obama’s cloud of rhetoric has passed, hopefully my own will take its place. Let me scare all the evangelicals out there by reminding
    you that Obama is the false messiah who will raise taxes by 5%–compared to only 3% under our plan. He will actually
    dare to give orders from Washington, which we will never do! Instead, I will continue to give orders from Juneau.

    Did I mention 9-11?

    Government is too big …

    Congress spends too much … this has nothing to do with the six years of Republican-controlled House and Senate
    and a Republican Administration, and is entirely the fault of big-spending Democrats.

    Taxes are too high … he wants to raise them more than we do. Both of our tax increases are the fine print in our economic plans, and let me be specific.

    Under Obama’s plan,

    The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise the sort of income taxes that most of Americans (earning over $250,000) will pay by hundreds of billions of dollars. Even if most lower and middle class Americans receive a tax savings, how are the rest of us going to be better off if our opponent adds a massive tax burden to the American economy?

    Here’s how I look at the choice Americans face in this election.

    In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers–kind of like what I’m doing right now.

    And then there are those, like John McCain, who “borrow” the theme “change” to promote their conventions.

    Among politicians, there is the idealism of high-flown speechmaking, in which crowds are stirringly summoned to support great things. And there is the rough and tumble of pit-bull VP speeches, which elevate the art of mud-slinging.

    Senator McCain’s record of actual achievement and reform helps explain why so many special interests, lobbyists, and comfortable committee chairmen in Congress have fought the prospect of a McCain presidency.
    That’s why McCain has only accepted $400,000 from lobbyists, in the telephone utility and telecom service industries,
    among others.

    Our nominee doesn’t run with the Washington herd. He shuffles, and slow dances with them.

    My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of “personal discovery.” It’s supposed
    to be a journey from Wasilla, I mean the Panama Canal, to Washington.

    John McCain was a POW. He suffered horribly while fighting for you. He almost died for you–so don’t be ungrateful!

    Remember Compassion Conservativism? Well, John McCain will show compassion–as he did for his wife when he divorced her
    after a disfiguring car accident, but he showed compassion by agreeing to pay all her medical bills.

    Also, in case I didn’t mention it previously, remember that John McCain was a POW.

    For tonight, a gifted reader can appeal to the base with borrowed words, if not deeds.

    I’m not sure what our own themes are, but if the Democrats are running on character and hope and change, join our cause because I’m a woman and we’re so much better than them–but remember, “Country First!”

    Thank you all, and may God bless most of America.

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