By Barbra Streisand.
It seems these days that the Republican debates have become a forum in which candidates can assert just about anything. With the right amount of aggression, they are able to avoid answering tough questions by bullying the moderator into submission (i.e. not asking strong follow up questions in order to correct the record). We know there is a certain level of theatrics in politics. The electorate assumes that candidates will embellish, evade, and even sidestep at times when asked tough questions. But the line should be drawn when candidates re-write history in order to protect or enhance their own self-image, which isn’t based on the truth.
Americans are busy, working hard to support and provide for their families. They don’t have time to parcel out fact from fiction. They depend on the Fourth Estate to guide them and to hold individuals running for office, especially the highest office in our country, accountable. Journalists like Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow knew it was their duty to know the facts and disseminate them to the public. That responsibility in today’s media world seems to be diminishing.
As I’ve watched the Republican Presidential primary unfold, I’ve seen the candidates successfully deflecting answers to tough questions or misleading the public, without forceful and timely push back from the mainstream media. And we all know, the longer a lie or a half truth is allowed to simmer in the public consciousness without being refuted, the harder it is to correct misconceptions down the line.
Newt Gingrich has done this the best. He has claimed in debates and interviews that while serving as Speaker of the House, his leadership helped create 11 million new jobs, which ultimately led to the economic boom of the 1990s. He always leaves out one very important fact however. The economic boom of the 90s would not have been possible without President Clinton. Clinton pushed for the passage of the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act, which proposed increasing taxes on the wealthiest income earners, cutting programs that weren’t working, taxing corporations at 35%, and extending the earned income tax credit. Gingrich vehemently opposed the bill and he and every one of his Republican colleagues voted against it. The deadlock was broken by then Vice President Al Gore and the bill was signed into law by President Clinton. Three years later, the economy was surging, and by the end of Clinton’s second term, when Gingrich was forced out of office by his own party, the Administration recorded a net budget surplus. It was the first time the US budget had been balanced since 1968. Given these historical facts, how does any pundit or media outlet allow Gingrich to get away with taking credit for something he worked so hard to destroy?
Also, recently in a debate moderated by Fox News analyst, Juan Williams, Gingrich was questioned about controversial remarks he had made about poverty and African Americans. Gingrich had previously said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. Juan Williams attempted to coax Gingrich into acknowledging that he was playing racial politics. To which Gingrich responded untruthfully that, “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” And there ended that portion of the debate with Gingrich receiving deafening applause from the audience, looking strong and principled. What Juan Williams failed to point out in that moment is that Barack Obama has not put anyone on food stamps. The grossly irresponsible and greedy practices of those on Wall Street, which led to the subsequent crash of the housing market, created the most severe recession our country has experienced since the Great Depression (which Obama inherited from George W. Bush when he entered office). These events, along with the continuous deregulation of our financial sector, conspired to make a record number of people eligible for government food assistance. Juan Williams completely missed this important opportunity to reveal the real truth behind Gingrich’s racist assertions.
These kinds of tactics are used frequently by candidates running for office. Journalists need to stand strong and do their job, which is to challenge candidates immediately when they are purposefully misleading the public. They should not be polite or fearful of offending someone when the truth is in question. As we continue through the primary and head toward the general election, this is crucial. Without the mainstream media’s commitment to holding candidates accountable, we have little chance of having a well-informed electorate on Election Day. And let’s look at the facts. The truth is, President Obama’s leadership on the stimulus, bringing the auto industry back from the brink of collapse, adding nearly 3.7 million private sector jobs in 23 consecutive months of job growth proves that our country is moving in the right direction. Because of the President’s policies, our economy is on the road to recovery and it’s time we start celebrating the truth.
P.S. Hooray to everyone who supported Planned Parenthood and spoke out against Susan G. Komen for the Cure, who wrongfully politicized the issue of women’s health. This week we saw how the power of grass roots activism can lead to positive change. Bravo!