Fitzsimon File

The lingering effect of the lies

In less than a month you will be able to watch your favorite television show or sporting event without being bombarded by obnoxious political ads. That’s the good news. The onslaught of attack ads will end.

But they will have done their damage by then and not just to the political fortunes of the candidates involved. The worst of them are contaminating our political debate to the point that any thoughtful public discussion of policy options to help our state or country is almost impossible.

Consider one simple example in an anti-Obama commercial currently being run by Republican forces. It includes a reference to “Obama’s failed trillion dollar stimulus plan” that it says added to the national debt, building on a claim conservatives have been making since the Recovery Act passed in 2009.

They call the stimulus package a failure, a giveaway to China, and a complete waste of money that proves the government can’t create jobs, etc.

That characterization has been repeated so many times in so many commercials and speeches that some Democrats and folks who know better have simply given up trying to counter the distortions, thereby ceding important philosophical ground about the role of government and the importance of public investments.

The Recovery Act did not cost a trillion dollars, it was $787 billion. That means the ad exaggerates the price tag by almost 25 percent, this from folks who want us to think they would be better at keeping up with taxpayer money.

More than a third of the stimulus package was spent on tax cuts that many businesses and almost every American received through a reduction in the payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks at work.

I made this point at a civic club meeting in Eastern North Carolina recently and was met with utter disbelief, but it’s true, $288 billion of the $787 billion paid for tax cuts for most workers and tax credits for businesses, homebuyers, college students and others.

It’s normally an act of faith among Republicans that tax cuts are always good, but not in this case apparently.

Another big part of the stimulus plan went to education with the bulk of it going to states to prevent massive teacher layoffs and devastating cuts to public schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike in North Carolina relied on the federal money to keep many teachers in classrooms, though there were significant layoffs after the current General Assembly decided not to replace the federal funding when it ended.

But surely most Americans were glad that hundreds of thousands of teachers didn’t lose their jobs in 2009. Instead they were saved by what we are now told was a completely wasteful stimulus plan.

There’s plenty the more the Recovery Act did, like extending unemployment benefits to people caught up in the Great Recession, funding job training and food banks. Then there were the investments in infrastructure, roads and bridges and parks.

It didn’t solve the country’s economic problems by any means and not every single dollar was spent wisely, but the stimulus did put people to work and prevented many others from losing their jobs.

That’s not idle speculation, it is the opinion of 92 percent of economists surveyed by the business school at the University of Chicago, not exactly a bastion of liberal economic thought.

None of that is mentioned in the anti-Obama ad of course, not the economists, not the jobs saved and created, and certainly not the tax cut that most Americans enjoyed.

It’s easier to demagogue it all in a soundbite as big government run amok, further misleading the people about their economy and the potential impact of public investments.

Maybe it’s good politics to avoid telling the truth. That we will see in a few weeks. But lying about the past is unquestionably bad for any chance of an honest discussion about the country’s future.

The political ads will be off your television soon. But the lingering lies of this campaign will be with for us for a long time.

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