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DEMOCRATS STRETCH THE TRUTH A BIT ON OPENING DAY
NEWS WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT JERRY ZREMSKI ANALYZES AND FACT-CHECKS WHAT WAS SAID DURING MONDAY'S PRIME-TIME TELEVISION COVERAGE OF THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION.

WASHINGTON Bill Clinton may well have stolen the show -- but he also stretched the truth.

Political pros, both nonpartisan and Republican, had a few nits to pick with the former president's speech at the Democratic National Convention Monday.

"I had forgotten how much he loves using numbers," said Brooks Jackson, director of the Annenberg Political Fact Check. "He's of course selective about the numbers he's using."

For example, Jackson noted that Clinton bragged about the level of home ownership achieved during his terms in office -- but failed to note that it reached another new record level under his successor, President Bush.

That was just the sort of statement that drew criticism Tuesday from convention observers, even though many praised the show the Democrats put on for the country on the opening night of their convention.

What Clinton said wasn't a lie; it was an incomplete truth.

Similarly, Clinton criticized Bush's signature education program, "No Child Left Behind." Bush's decision to withhold promised funding for the program meant "leaving 2.1 million children behind," Clinton said.

In reality, the under-funding of the program left school districts representing 2.1 million children in a financial bind.

Besides, Clinton didn't mention that even though Bush didn't fully fund the education program, he pushed for a vast increase in federal education spending. Since 2001, federal education spending has grown 65 percent, said Rosario Marin, former U.S. Treasurer, who appeared at a GOP press conference in Boston Tuesday.

At other times, Clinton -- and former President Jimmy Carter -- offered interpretations as facts.

For example, Jackson noted that Clinton said the Supreme Court was just a vote away from overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

In reality, Jackson said, previous rulings indicate that six of the nine justices support that ruling, meaning it would really take two Supreme Court retirements to truly imperil Roe v. Wade.

Clinton also drew criticism for saying that Bush wanted to cut 88,000 police officers nationwide. It's true that Bush has suggested cutting Clinton's community policing program, but Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the right-wing Media Research Center, noted that the program was designed to expire after a few years and that some research has questioned its effectiveness.

Graham also took Carter to task for saying, "Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combatting terrorism."

In response, Graham said: "That leads viewers to assume that we have no allies. And that's just not factual." For example, Great Britain, Italy and Poland have remained steadfast in support of the invasion of Iraq although the coalition behind that war is vastly smaller than the one that supported the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Fully factual or not, the opening night of the convention "delivered a good message to energize Democrats," acknowledged Erie County Republican Chairman Robert Davis.

"That was the best speech and best performance I've ever seen Bill Clinton deliver," said Democratic consultant Joe Slade White of East Aurora. "Amazing."

And if it stretched the truth a bit, that's what politicians do.

"He caricatured the Republican policies," said Michael V. Haselswerdt, a political science professor at Canisius College and a Democrat. "But that's political speech-making for you."

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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