Context: Debate factcheck

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October 23, 2012 by Michael

As always happens in Presidential campaigns, both candidates in last night’s debate struggled to reshape the other’s image in front of America. And as always, the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy center sent its fact checkers to straighten out the distortions.

The results? Both men had five misstatements to their record, ranging from minor to major:

Obama’s misstatements:

1. Romney never said that we should “ask permission” before pursuing terrorists into Pakistan. He criticized Obama for making a public statement about his intent to pursue terrorists, in a way that suggested that we should ask permission, but he later clarified that statement. That later statement said we should not announce our plans publicly.

2. Despite Obama’s claim, both men thought that some troops should be left in Iraq. In fact, they differed only on numbers: Obama wanted to leave 3-4,000 troops, while Romney wanted to leave 10,000.

3. Obama said that unemployment among veterans is lower than among the general population, when this is only true of veterans who haven’t served in Iraq or Afghanistan. In other words, more recent vets are still having trouble finding work.

4. In one of the bigger he-said, he-said battles of the night, Obama claimed that Romney didn’t want Detroit to accept government support. While Romney did advocate for bankruptcy in his 2008 New York Times editorial, he said that the government should provide post-bankruptcy loan guarantees to the firms.

5. Obama said that Romney called Russia our “greatest threat” when Romney actually said that Russia was our “greatest geopolitical foe” and that a nuclear Iran was our “greatest threat.”

Romney’s misstatements:

1. Romney said that the Navy had fewer ships than at any time since 1917, but there are slightly more ships today than at the low point under Bush II.

2. Calling Obama’s Middle East tour an “apology” tour (or that he said he’d put daylight between the US and Israel) still doesn’t hold water with factcheckers, who find no instance of apologizing in any of his speeches on that tour. Fuller context shows that Romney is misreading the “daylight” comment, which comes via a secondary source from a private meeting, so the exact wording is difficult to trust.  The speech Romney cited when Obama spoke of America being “derisive” and “dismissive” was delivered in France, not the Middle East.

3. Although Massachusetts grade schoolers did score tops in the nation under Romney, they were already doing so before he took office.

4. Romney said that the US government owes “$16 trillion to other people,” but the figure is actually $11 trillion. The $16T figure includes money the government owes to itself, not others.

5. George W. Bush mentioned terrorism in the 2000 debates, contrary to Romney’s claim that no one discussed the matter.

There the misstatements are, in all their dubious glory. Some are more momentous than others, but all are typical of the slanted rhetoric that occurs during elections.

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