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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

GOP Convention Spin, Part II

Palin trips up on her facts, and Giuliani and Huckabee have their own stumbles on Night 3 of the Republican confab.


Sarah Palin’s much-awaited speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night may have shown she could play the role of attack dog, but it also showed her to be short on facts when it came to touting her own record and going after Obama’s.


We found Rudy Giuliani, who introduced her, to be as factually challenged as he sometimes was back when he was in the race. But Mike Huckabee may have laid the biggest egg of all.

  • Palin may have said “Thanks, but no thanks” on the Bridge to Nowhere, though not until Congress had pretty much killed it already. But that was a sharp turnaround from the position she took during her gubernatorial campaign, and the town where she was mayor received lots of earmarks during her tenure.
  • Palin’s accusation that Obama hasn’t authored “a single major law or even a reform” in the U.S. Senate or the Illinois Senate is simply not a fair assessment. Obama has helped push through major ethics reforms in both bodies, for example.
  • The Alaska governor avoided some of McCain’s false claims about Obama’s tax program – but her attacks still failed to give the whole story.
  • Giuliani distorted the time line and substance of Obama’s statements about the conflict between Russia and Georgia. In fact, there was much less difference between his statements and those of McCain than Giuliani would have had us believe.
  • Giuliani also said McCain had been a fighter pilot. Actually, McCain’s plane was the A-4 Skyhawk, a small bomber. It was the only plane he trained in or flew in combat, according to McCain’s own memoir.
  • Finally, Huckabee told conventioneers and TV viewers that Palin got more votes when she ran for mayor of Wasilla than Biden did running for president. Not even close. The tally: Biden, 79,754, despite withdrawing from the race after the Iowa caucuses. Palin, 909 in her 1999 race, 651 in 1996.


Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a hit with the party faithful at the GOP convention, but some of her claims were amiss. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also delivered a few faulty remarks.

A Bridge Too Far

Palin claimed to have stood up to Congress on the subject of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” the Gravina Island bridge in Ketchikan, Alaska, about which we wrote last November.

Palin: I told the Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks," on that bridge to nowhere.

This is not the first time Palin has cited her choice to kill the bridge in 2007 as an example of her anti-waste stance. It’s true that she did eventually nix the project. But the bridge was nearly dead already – Congress had removed the earmark, giving the requested money to the state but not marking it for any specific use. Palin unplugged its life support, declaring in 2007 that the funds would not be used for the Gravina bridge.

When she was running for governor, however, Palin expressed a different position. In 2006, the Ketchikan Daily News quoted her expressing optimism and support for the bridge at a Ketchikan campaign stop.

Palin, 2006: "People across the nation struggle with the idea of building a bridge because they’ve been under these misperceptions about the bridge and the purpose,” said Palin, who described the link as the Ketchikan area’s potential for expansion and growth. … Palin said Alaska’s congressional delegation worked hard to obtain funding for the bridge as part of a package deal and that she “would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge.”

Palin also answered "yes" to an Anchorage Daily News poll question about whether she would continue to support state funding for the Gravina Island bridge if elected governor. "The window is now," she wrote, "while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist." It was only after she won the governorship that Palin shifted her position. And even then, it’s inaccurate to say that she “told the Congress ‘thanks, but no thanks.’” Palin accepted non-earmarked money from Congress that could have been used for the bridge if she so desired. That she opted to use it for other state transportation purposes doesn’t qualify as standing up to Congress.

The bridge reversal is not the only matter throwing doubt on Palin’s credentials as a government waste reformer. Watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has reported that the small town of Wasilla, Alaska, which had not previously received significant federal funds, hauled in almost $27 million in earmarks while Palin was mayor. (McCain has explicitly criticized several of the Wasilla earmarks in recent years.) To help obtain these earmarks, Palin had hired Steven Silver, the former chief of staff for recently indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, as Wasilla’s lobbyist.

And Palin continued to solicit federal funds as governor. A request form on Stevens’ Web site shows that she requested $160.5 million in earmarks for the state in 2008, and almost $198 million for 2009.

Tough Grader

Palin disparaged Obama’s legislative record, both in Illinois and in Washington:

Palin: But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or even a reform, not even in the state Senate.

Of course, we can’t say what Palin considers “major.” But if Palin’s own ethics reforms in Alaska were important enough to highlight in her convention address, then it’s only fair to credit Obama’s efforts on that topic. In 1998 in the Illinois Senate, Obama cosponsored an ethics overhaul that bars elected officials from using their campaign funds for personal use and and was called the the first major overhaul of Illinois campaign and ethics laws in 25 years. It also bans fundraisers in the state Capitol during legislative sessions. Obama’s Republican cosponsor Kirk Dillard even appeared in an Obama ad last summer describing Obama’s skills working with members of both parties to get legislation passed.

In Washington, Obama was instrumental in helping to craft the 2007 ethics reform law that ended gifts and meals from lobbyists, cut off subsidized jet travel for members of Congress, required lobbyists to disclose contributions they “bundle” to candidates, and put the brakes on other, similar common practices.

In addition, we already noted in a recent article Obama’s efforts with Republican senators to help detect and secure weapons of mass destruction and to destroy conventional weapons stockpiles around the world, and to create a publicly searchable database on federal spending.


One area where we note improvement is the way Palin attacked Obama’s tax proposals – as a burden "on the American economy" rather than, as McCain has been falsely claiming, a direct tax increase on middle-income workers:

Palin: And let me be specific: The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, and raise payroll taxes, and raise investment income taxes, and raise the death tax, and raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars. … How are you – how are you going to be better off if our opponent adds a massive tax burden to the American economy?

Her tax remarks still cry out for context. Obama proposes to cut taxes for most individuals (81.3 percent of all households would get a tax cut), while raising them only for a relative few at the top, which she did not mention. But she avoided the false claims that McCain continues to make, most recently in a TV ad that wrongly accuses Obama of planning "painful tax increases on working American families." Instead, Palin spoke of the effect of an overall tax increase on jobs and the economy.

It’s quite true that Obama’s plan would increase taxes overall, by a total of $627 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Economists may debate how large or small an effect such an increase would have on jobs and businesses; it’s certainly a topic open for discussion in a political campaign.

Riffing Wrongly

In attacking Obama, Palin reeled off a few statements that had a nice cadence, but were light on facts.

Palin: America needs more energy; our opponent is against producing it. Victory in Iraq is finally in sight, and he wants to forfeit. Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay; he wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.

We have factual problems with three of these statements.

  • Obama’s not against producing more energy. In fact, he’s not even against drilling for oil any more, within limits. He has a $150 billion clean energy program and says that he wants to develop clean coal technology, advance the next generation of biofuels, prioritize construction of the Alaska gas pipeline (surely a measure Palin agrees with) and take a host of other steps to both conserve energy and produce it, in various forms.

  • If Obama’s comments about meeting with "terrorist states" are worthy of ridicule, then perhaps so are those of the Bush administration and other Republicans. Obama made his first statement on this in an answer to a video question at a Democratic debate last year, when he said "I would" when asked whether he’d meet "separately, without precondition" in his first year with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Reagan, JFK and other presidents had spoken to the Soviet Union regularly, he noted.

    In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in June, Obama elaborated, saying that he would take an  aggressive diplomatic approach – carefully preparing for such meetings, setting a clear agenda, coordinating with  U.S. allies, and not conducting the meetings at all unless they were clearly in the U.S. interest. He also stressed he would "do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

    In recent months, the Bush Administration has been more open to beginning a dialogue with the same nations that it once referred to as the “axis of evil.” In July, the president sent a high-level official to Geneva to sit in on nuclear talks with Iran and authorized Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak with North Korean diplomats about ending that country’s nuclear weapons program. Reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times noted the stark contrast between the administration’s current position about meeting with “foes” and its attitude several years ago.

    Further, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in May that we should "sit down and talk" with Iran. So did former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in March. As did Sen. Dick Lugar, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as far back as 2006.

  • Obama isn’t worried, as Palin said, "that someone won’t read them their rights" when it comes to suspected terrorists who are detained by the U.S. He does, however, support the right of detainees to challenge their imprisonment in federal court. That’s the same position the Supreme Court took in June in a case called Boumediene v. Bush.

Cookin’ with Gas

Palin talked about standing up to oil companies and oil lobbyists, citing her work on getting a gas pipeline built in Alaska:

Palin: I fought to bring about the largest private-sector infrastructure project in North American history. And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence.

Actually, construction hasn’t begun on the pipeline, and the project isn’t quite a done deal. Palin signed legislation just last week that authorizes the state to give a license in 90 days to TransCanada to start developing the project. The state also can provide $500 million as seed money. She gets credit for moving the pipeline closer to realization after many years of talks. Palin pushed for legislation that would allow a private company to build the 1,715-mile natural gas pipeline, instead of oil companies, which she said were moving too slowly on the issue.

In an Aug. 27 press release, Palin indicated that there was still work to be done before the project would become a reality:

Palin, press release, Aug. 27: After dreaming of a natural gas pipeline for more than 30 years, Alaskans have now created the framework for the project to advance. This legislation brings us closer than we’ve ever been to building a gas pipeline and finally accessing our gas that has been languishing for so many decades on the North Slope.

Washington Post energy correspondent Steven Mufson wrote that the major oil companies have opposed the pipeline project, saying it wasn’t economically feasible. Yet, ConocoPhillips and BP have proposed their own gas pipeline that would compete with the state-backed project. TransCanada estimates it will take 10 years to finish the pipeline, according to its application to the state, and it will cost about $26.5 billion – not $40 billion as Palin said.

As for Palin having “stood up to … the Big Oil companies,” as she said in her speech, she has on this issue, not on others. Oil is, after all, incredibly important to Alaska’s economy. About 80 percent of the state budget comes from oil and gas taxes and royalties. Palin is in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore areas, a position she shares with oil companies.

Georgia on Their Minds

Before Palin took the stage, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the evening’s keynote speaker, gave a factually challenged account of how Obama and McCain had responded to the Georgia-Russia conflict.

First, he said that “within hours” McCain had “established a very strong, informed position that let the world know exactly how he’ll respond as president. At exactly the right time, John McCain said, ‘We’re all Georgians.’ ” McCain did release a strongly worded statement on the conflict on Aug. 8, the day reports of violence first surfaced, but he didn’t say, “We’re all Georgians” until four days later.

Giuliani went on to criticize Obama, saying his “first instinct was to create a moral equivalency — that ‘both sides’ should ‘show restraint.’ ” It’s true Obama’s initial statement said, “Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full scale war,” and McCain called on Russia to “unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.” It’s worth noting, however, that Obama’s words echoed those of White House press secretary Dana Perino, who said on Aug. 8, “we urge restraint on all sides – that violence would be curtailed and that direct dialogue could ensue in order to help resolve their differences.” Early reports also said Georgia may have triggered the outbreak of fighting. We’ll leave it to readers to judge which candidate took the right tack.

Giuliani then said Obama “changed his position and suggested that the U.N. Security Council could find a solution. Apparently, none of his 300 advisers told him that Russia has a veto on any U.N. action.” But Obama’s very first statement called for U.N. Security Council action – and so did McCain’s.

Obama, Aug. 8: …the United States, the United Nations Security Council, and the international community should fully support a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

McCain, Aug. 8: The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course.

Apparently, McCain doesn’t share Giuliani’s concern for Russia’s veto power either. In fact, in his third statement on Aug. 11, McCain said: "The United States and our allies should continue efforts to bring a resolution before the UN Security Council condemning Russian aggression. … We should move ahead with the resolution despite Russian veto threats, and submit Russia to the court of world public opinion.”

Giuliani wrapped up his account by saying, “Finally Obama put out a statement that looked … well, it looked a lot like John McCain’s.” It’s true that Obama’s statements became more forceful – as did McCain’s – but Obama was calling for Russia to “stop its bombing campaign” and “withdraw its ground forces from Georgia” in his second statement, as well as his third.

Naked Gun

Giuliani also bungled a reference to McCain’s Navy record:

Giuliani: And being a "Top Gun" kind of guy, he became a fighter pilot.

Actually, McCain wasn’t a fighter pilot at all, much less "top gun" among that very specialized group. McCain was a bomber pilot, and he himself makes this clear on page 173 of his book "Faith of my Fathers": "I trained exclusively in the A-4 Skyhawk, the small bomber that I would soon fly in combat missions." The aircraft is formally called a "Light Attack Bomber" by Boeing, successor to McDonnell-Douglas, the company that made it. It’s true that a few A-4s were flown by the Navy Fighter Weapons School at Miramar, California – but they played the role of "bogies," which the fighter pilots in training were supposed to intercept and shoot down.

Giuliani might be forgiven for his mistake, as he never served in the military himself.

Too Good to Check?

The biggest whopper of the night may have come from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who charged that Palin “got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States.” It may sound like a great line, but it’s not true – not even close. Palin garnered 651 votes in 1996 and 909 votes in 1999 in her two races for mayor of Wasilla, according to the city. Biden, despite withdrawing from the race after the Iowa caucus, got 79,754 votes in the Democratic primaries.

– by Viveca Novak, with Brooks Jackson, Jess Henig, Lori Robertson and D’Angelo Gore


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