Spinning facts and figures is as old as politics itself, but Wednesday night, Sen. John Kerry marshaled a mountain of distortions to create his own America?one that exists only as a figment of his imagination.
Seemingly evoking his running mate?s primary campaign theme of the ?two Americas,? Kerry talked about the haves and the have-nots, the supposed increased tax burden on the middle class, the swelling ranks of the uninsured, and the decrease?and then the increase?in Pell Grants for college students.
But a quick fact check involving statistics from sources such as the U.S. government, the Federal Reserve of Chicago, nonpartisan outfits, and even liberal organizations reveals that Kerry needed to alternately stretch and break the truth in order to complete his caricature.
Here?s the rundown, reserved for purposes of clarity and brevity to the areas of economy and jobs, health care, and college costs:
Economy and Jobs
· Kerry claimed that during the Bush administration, ?1.6 million jobs [were] lost.? In truth, the figure is half that. Only 800,000 net jobs have been lost, and even that number is widely expected to be revised downward to 600,000. Considering that 9/11 wiped out 1 million jobs right away, and 1.5 million within a year?all coinciding with the inherited recession and the stock market correcting its irrational exuberance?Bush?s record on this count is, in fact, impressive.
· Kerry: ?He?s the only president to have incomes of families go down for the last three years.? According to official U.S. Commerce Department figures, per-capita after-tax income is up 6% since December 2000?and that?s not even counting the results from the economic growth of 2004.
· Repeating a populist?and untrue?line from his stump speeches, Kerry said, ?The jobs the president is creating pay $9,000 less than the jobs that we?re losing.? This sounds like a devastating indictment, and it plays right into the urban legend that disappearing manufacturing jobs are replaced by burger-flippers. According to the nonpartisan FactCheck.org, ?Higher-paid occupations, like managers (who can be in any industry) and health professionals, are growing faster.? This claim is largely based on Federal Reserve of Chicago study released last month.
· In perhaps the most flagrant lie of the night, Kerry charged, ?Under President Bush, the middle class has seen their tax burden go up and the wealthiest?s tax burden has gone down. Now that?s wrong.? No, Kerry?s wrong. The average family of four earning $40,000 has seen an average tax reduction of $1,900. (Bush said $1,700 in the debate.) Either way, that constitutes a staggering 90% reduction from their previous income tax burden. And with the creation of the new 10% bracket, every person paying income taxes has received a tax cut. With respect to the other side of the class warfare argument, the top 1% now pays a slightly greater share of the overall tax burden than before.
· Kerry stated flatly, ?I have a plan to cover all Americans.? The nonpartisan Lewin Group (which was cited by Bush) calculated that Kerry?s plan would cover only 25.2 million out of 45 million uninsured Americans. As President Bush noted during the debate, the Lewin Group also found that the 10-year price tag would be $1.2 trillion, roughly double the cost estimated by the Kerry camp?which would cover barely half the number of people Kerry claims it would.
· Without batting an eyelash, a dour Kerry pronounced, ?Health-care costs for the average American have gone up 64 percent.? Except, they haven?t. It?s not entirely clear what constitutes ?health care costs,? but it is clear that health insurance premiums have not risen anywhere near that amount. The worst-case statistic, as calculated by the ultra-liberal Families USA (an organ of Big Labor), health insurance premiums have risen by 36 percent since 2000.
· Pulling a page from the Clinton handbook, Kerry said, ?Five million Americans have lost their health insurance in this country.? In fairness to Kerry, this is an accurate statistic?but also incredibly misleading. Because of population growth, the percentage of the population that is uninsured is the same as it was in 1996 (15.6%), and below the level it was in 1998 (16.3%).
· Although not challenged by Bush afterward, Kerry threw out an eye-popping?and entirely fictional?figure. The Massachusetts liberal, when discussing the provision in the Medicare prescription drug bill that prohibits the federal government from negotiating with the drug companies, charged that this would cause a ?$139 billion windfall profit to the drug companies coming out of your pockets.? The accountants behind the Academy Awards, Price Waterhouse Coopers, found that the impact on drug companies? profits would be negligible or even negative.
· In rattling off a litany of problems allegedly caused by Bush, Kerry claimed, ?tuitions have gone up 35 percent.? Actually, what students pay has gone down. From a June 28 cover story in the right-wing rag USA Today: ?What students pay on average for tuition at public universities has fallen by nearly one-third since 1998.?
· In one of the unintentionally funniest moments of the debate, Kerry countered what he himself had said earlier about Pell Grants. First, he said, ?They?ve cut the Pell Grants and the Perkins loans to help kids be able to go to college.? After Bush called him on the fib by pointing out that the number of kids getting Pell Grants has gone up, Kerry admitted, ?[T]he Pell Grants have gone up in their numbers.? He quickly added that this was ?because more people qualify for them because they don?t have money.? Actually, the real reason is that eligibility rules have been loosened in order to allow more kids to qualify.
Whether or not most voters will see the real America or John Kerry?s come Election Day remains to be seen. The answer could go a long way in determining the occupant of the White House for the next four years.