The Biggest Lies Told By Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Smilin’ Joe Biden

Four debates. Four politicians. Four whoppers.

Politicians are liars.

Some of the lies are big. Some of the lies are small. But the nature of competitive democracy—and the ass-covering that is occasionally required of elective office—is that everybody is going to tell a whopper, sooner or later. Everybody.

Yes, even the politicians you like. And yes, even the politicians I like. I’m a liberal, partial to Democrats, and I wish that Democratic leaders had unsullied souls—but that (ahem) isn’t really always the case. It’s good for all of us to remember that, or else we end up defending lies, exaggeration, and spin in the name of taking one for the team—we end up really believing that untrue things are true.

So in the interest of truth and fairness—as well a little bit of breaking free from the “Obama Rules! Romney Drools!” nature of commentary expected of a liberal writer at this stage of the presidential campaign—here’s a look at all four candidates on the major party tickets, and the biggest lies they told during the course of three presidential and one vice-presidential debate.

Mitt Romney

“I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.”

Yes, Mitt’s biggest whopper helped generate the biggest meme of the debates. You might recall that I even defended Mitt a bit, suggesting that if conservatives want to nurture diversity in their workplaces, we liberals ought to encourage that instead of mocking them for it.

Only it turned out Mitt wasn’t really nurturing diversity: It was foisted upon him by those women’s groups that were pushing for more women in his administration. Romney cast himself as the initiative-taking hero of the story; he was merely the conduit. He deserves a little bit of credit for it, but not nearly as much as he claimed for himself in the debate. And you might argue that by taking credit for the work actually done by women, Romney perpetuated the underlying problem.

Honorable mention:We don’t dictate to nations. We free nations from dictators.” Good God, go buy the man some Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn books. We’re a great nation, but we’re not perfect.

Barack Obama:

“He called the Arizona law a model for the nation.”

President Obama clearly tried to suggest that Romney had praised Arizona’s controversial law that lets law enforcement officers essentially racially profile suspected illegal immigrants there. Actually, Romney—who did spend the primary season trying to sound like the toughest candidate of all time, regarding immigrants—was praising Arizona’s law requiring employers to check their workers’ immigration status. Different.

Honorable mention: “When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care. They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings.” This may be just a quibble, but Planned Parenthood does do breast exams—it just doesn’t do actual mammograms.

Joe Biden:

“And, by the way, (Republicans) talk about this Great Recession if it fell out of the sky, like, ‘Oh, my goodness, where did it come from?’ It came from this man (Paul Ryan) voting to put two wars on a credit card, to at the same time put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion-dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. I voted against them. I said, no, we can’t afford that.”

There are a lot of statements there, but it sure sounds like Biden suggested he voted against everything on this laundry list of items. He did vote against the Bush tax cuts and the Bush-era prescription drug benefit. But he also voted for both of the wars—Iraq and Afghanistan—even in the absence of a clear-cut mechanism for paying for them. (This was back when Democrats like Biden and Hillary Clinton felt they had to vote for wars in order to have a shot at the White House.) As a result, Biden bears some responsibility, from his Senate years, for the deficit problems we now face.

Honorable mention: Every time he called Paul Ryan “my friend” during the debate. Nobody believed him. Nobody should’ve.

Paul Ryan

“They [Iran] are moving faster toward a nuclear weapon. It’s because this administration has no credibility on this issue. It’s because this administration watered down sanctions, delayed sanctions, tried to stop us from putting the tough sanctions in place.”

Actually, the Obama Administration has pressed the toughest-ever santions against Iran in an effort to undermine the country’s nuclear program—a sanction regime so tough that even the Israelis acknowledge its effectiveness.

Honorable mention: “You know, I understand you guys aren’t used to doing bipartisan deals …” Actually, the Obama Administration hasn’t had any Republican partners to do bipartisan deals. That’s more the fault of the GOP than Obama.

So yes, politicians are liars. The best politicians, though, connect their spin, exaggerations, and outright falsehoods close enough to the truth that doing a fact-check is trickier than you might think. But the truth should count for something—or else we’re all a little more corrupted by this process than we want to admit.