Hyperactive Fact-Checkers

I think it’s probably a good thing that so many media organizations now run these “fact-check” items about political ads and rhetoric (except that it’s going to confuse the next generation of magazine interns about what fact-checking is about) but one thing I’ve noticed is a tendency to get overly vigilant. Just to keep things non-partisan let me, for example, defend John McCain against the inclusion of this claim in a list of “discredited claims” that he’s “blithely carried on with”:

McCain’s down-to-the-wire accusation that Obama “will raise your taxes” contradicts Obama’s tax-cut proposals for all but wealthy Americans.


To me, to consider this an example of “exaggeration and misrepresentation” is, itself, misleading. A more generous interpretation of what McCain is doing here is not that he’s lying about Obama’s plan, but that he’s accusing Obama of lying. He’s saying that Obama’s spending promises are so promiscuous that they could only be paid for through broader tax increases than he’s willing to admit to, and that Obama’s ideological proclivities will lead him to backslide on his tax promises rather than backslide on his budget promises. Now I think the reality is that Obama will probably wind up spending less than he’s promised (hard to get those bills through congress!) and running a bigger deficit than he says, but not backslide on those tax commitments. But McCain has a real argument to offer here, just as Obama has a real argument to make that McCain’s plans would — despite his protestations to the contrary — lead to cuts in Social Security and Medicare.