Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Will Mike Pence Tell the Truth?

Dear Times Reader,

If you told me that I could change one thing about American politics, I would choose for the country to have a well-functioning conservative party.

I realize that some liberals see that notion as a contradiction. I don’t. There are serious, substantive arguments – even if you don’t agree with them – in favor of reducing the role of government in many areas of life and expanding the role of the market.

There are similarly serious arguments in favor of immigration restrictions, abortion restrictions, a more hawkish Syria policy, more competition in education and any number of other conservative positions.

Unfortunately, today’s Republican party doesn’t revolve around these substantive positions. Its leaders often care more about making Democrats look incompetent, and thus easier to beat, than about policy substance.

Along the way, they cause government shutdowns, paralyze Washington – and regularly deny basic facts.

Donald Trump has made blatant the party’s current problem with lying. But Trump is more of a reflection of the problem than the cause of it. Remarkably, every Republican presidential candidate this year was untruthful more often than every Democratic candidate, according to the watchdog PolitiFact (which was trying so hard to be neutral that it didn’t point out the pattern!).

Keep an eye out for the truth gap at tonight’s vice-presidential debate. Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana, is a likeable, often sunny conservative, according to those who know him. He is the kind of politician who could make the real conservative arguments I wish we heard more often.

Instead, he is prone to falsehoods.

He’s called Trump’s back-and-forth immigration positions “completely consistent.” He claimed that raising income taxes reduced federal revenue. He said that President Obama’s health law would “deprive roughly 120 million Americans of their current health care coverage.” And Pence lied about Hillary Clinton’s actions during the Benghazi attacks.

No politician is perfectly honest – including Tim Kaine, Pence’s opponent tonight. But Pence and his party have earned an extra degree of skepticism. When he says something, you should check it out.

What I’m reading: PolitiFact, Politico, NPR, The Washington Post and The New York Times all did excellent work fact-checking during the first Clinton-Trump debate. I’ll be looking at them tonight. If you have another source you like, please tell me about it, at leonhardt@nytimes.com.

The full Opinion report follows, including the results of Emma Roller's interviews with more than 30 people planning to vote for a third-party candidate this year.

David Leonhardt
Op-Ed Columnist, NYT

(The article is here.)

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