All Politicians Lie: The Empirics
By Bryan Caplan
My view that politicians are evil does not imply that politicians are liars. It’s logically possible to be candid about one’s evil. Nevertheless, as you’d expect, I combine my grim view of politicians’ overall character with an equally grim assessment of their personal honesty. Imagine my surprise, then, to see PolitiFact confirm my suspicious. Fact-checker Angie Holan in the NYT:
We don’t check absolutely everything a candidate says, but focus on what catches our eye
as significant, newsworthy or potentially influential. Our ratings are
also not intended to be statistically representative but to show trends
[J]ournalists regularly tell me their media organizations have started
highlighting fact-checking in their reporting because so many people
click on fact-checking stories after a debate or high-profile news
event. Many readers now want fact-checking as part of traditional news
stories as well; they will vocally complain to ombudsmen and readers’ representatives when they see news stories repeating discredited factual claims.
not to say that fact-checking is a cure-all. Partisan audiences will
savage fact-checks that contradict their views, and that’s true of both the right and the left. But “truthiness” can’t survive indefinitely in a fact-free vacuum.
Here’s what they find for today’s presidential hopefuls, plus Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
“What I have done — and this is unprecedented … is I’ve said to each
agency … ‘look at regulations that are already on the books and if
they don’t make sense, let’s get rid of them.'”
Politifact scores this as “Pants on Fire” because Bush I and Clinton also took this “unprecedented” move.
Dean Baker, a liberal economist and co-director of the Center for
Economic and Policy Research, called Obama’s comment a “nonsense claim.”
“I would question whether President Obama has done more in re-examining
existing regulations than prior presidents, and if he has I would ask
why he wasted the resources,” Baker told us via e-mail. “Whatever it is
called, presidents are always reviewing regulations to eliminate ones
that impose unnecessary burdens.”
In fact, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report
on July 16, 2007, states that, “Every president since President Carter
has directed agencies to evaluate or reconsider existing regulations.”
While I agree that Obama’s pants are indeed on fire here, it’s not because previous presidents have also tried to eliminate the regulations that “don’t make sense.” It’s because no president has ever earnestly done so. To eliminate senseless regulations, regulators would have to go through existing regs one-by-one, abolishing everything without a solid argument behind it. In legalese, regulations would at minimum have to survive “intermediate scrutiny” in order to stay on the books:
In order for a law to pass intermediate scrutiny, it must:
- Serve an important government objective, and
- Be substantially related to achieving the objective.
Still, I don’t want to make the best the enemy of the good. Though PolitFact’s standards strike me as lax, leading politicians still fall very short of honesty. And that’s a fact.