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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The Whoppers of 2008

Where McCain and Obama have misled voters. A partial tally.


Normally we post a “Whoppers” compilation the week before Election Day. This time we’ve already seen such a large number of twisted facts, misleading claims and outright falsehoods that we are doing that now.

It’s not just Sarah Palin’s claim about killing the bridge project that she had supported until it became a national laughingstock and Congress turned against it. That’s just the whopper that got the attention of many news organizations earlier this month. There have been lots of others.

McCain has made multiple false representations of Obama’s tax proposals. Obama has made false claims about McCain’s stance on Social Security. Both McCain and Obama have traded some whoppers about their energy policies, about Iraq, and about Iran, and about supporting troops.

For our full sampler of the campaign distortions we’ve seen so far, please read on to our Analysis section. There we provide summaries and links to extensive articles on each. This is a partial tally. We still have more than five weeks to go before Nov. 4.


Both candidates are flinging rather a lot of political poppycock, and some serious deceptions, too. We’ve gone after them in our regular articles and also in our new feature, The FactCheck Wire. Here are the lowlights – thus far.

McCain: Obama Will Raise Your Taxes

It’s a pretty standard Republican theme: “Democrat X favors higher taxes and wasteful spending.” But the McCain-Palin campaign has repeatedly pushed this line far beyond what the facts will support. Among the whoppers: that Sen. Barack Obama has voted to raise taxes on families earning as little as $32,000 per year, that Obama wants to tax your electricity and your heating oil, that he has voted for “higher” taxes 94 times, and that he will raise taxes for 23 million small-business owners. Each of these claims is false. Sen. John McCain also claims Obama will raise taxes on your investments, which is untrue for all but those at the top of the income scale.

Obama has not proposed new taxes for electricity or for home heating oil. McCain likes to point to a budget resolution for which Obama voted, which would have raised the marginal tax rate on a single individual earning $41,500 per year or a couple earning $83,000 per year. But that isn’t part of Obama’s tax plan, which would raise rates (including capital gains and dividend rates) only for couples earning at least $250,000 per year, or singles earning $200,000 or more. Any investments held in Individual Retirement Accounts, 401(k) plans or other tax-deferred retirement accounts would remain just that, tax-deferred. Nor would Obama’s plans affect 23 million small-business owners; most, in fact, would see a tax cut. At most, a few hundred thousand of the most affluent business owners would see rates go up. And those 94 votes for “higher” taxes? We count 23 that would not have raised taxes at all, but were merely votes against tax cuts. Seven of them would have lowered taxes for many. As for Obama’s actual plan: The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that 81.3 percent of all American workers and families would see a tax cut.

Tax Tally Trickery  July 3

The $32,000 Question  July 8

McCain’s Small-Business Bunk  July 14

More Tax Deceptions  August 12

A New Stitch in a Bad Pattern  September 2

There He Goes Again  September 18

Obama: McCain Will Cut Your Social Security

Democrats aren’t without a classic theme of their own: “Republican Y wants to cut Social Security benefits for our seniors.” John Kerry used something like that against George W. Bush in 2004. It wasn’t true then and it hasn’t gotten any more true in the past four years. But that hasn’t stopped Obama from claiming that McCain wants to cut benefits in half.

McCain did support Bush’s Social Security plan. But that plan would not have cut benefits at all. Everybody who gets a check now, or who is nearing retirement, would have remained in the current system. For younger workers who retire in the future, Bush proposed to slow the rate at which benefits grow – keeping pace with the rise of prices but not with the faster rise in wages, as is now the case. Compared with what today’s retirees get, that’s a smaller increase, not a reduction.

Obama also claimed that if McCain had his way, “millions” who rely on Social Security would have seen their investments disappearing in the recent stock market turmoil. He referred to “elderly women” at risk of poverty and said families would be scrambling to support “grandmothers and grandfathers.” Balderdash.  The Bush plan, which McCain embraced, would not have allowed anybody born before 1950 to have private accounts, so nobody retired on Social Security today could possibly be relying on private accounts for even a small portion of his or her benefit check. For younger workers, the accounts would have been voluntary anyway.

Scaring Seniors  September 19

Obama’s Social Security Whopper  September 20

The ‘Bridge to Nowhere’

Both McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have portrayed Palin’s supposed opposition to that infamous Bridge to Nowhere as a major feather in her cap. The claim that Palin told Congress “thanks, but no thanks” on the bridge is a serious distortion of the record. In fact, Palin supported the Gravina Access Project (the formal name of the Bridge to Nowhere) during her run for governor, even as McCain was denouncing it repeatedly as pork-barrel spending. When she finally changed her position in 2007, it was only after Congress had removed the earmark. She complained at the time that there was too little money for the bridge and griped about “inaccurate portrayals.” She didn’t say who was making these portrayals, but the portrayer-in-chief was, well, you know who. As for saying “no thanks,” Palin still received all of the funds originally earmarked for building the bridge but was free to spend them as she wished.

McCain’s Energy Errors

McCain has puffed up his own energy plan while offering a few falsehoods about Obama’s. Economists from across the political spectrum scoffed at McCain’s claim that a summer-long “gas tax holiday” would save motorists money. And McCain has released several ads promising support for renewable energy. His energy plan, however, contains a number of provisions for expanded oil drilling, “clean coal” and nuclear power, while his proposal for supporting renewable energy is limited to re-shuffling existing tax credits in some yet-to-be-specified way. McCain also claims that Obama doesn’t support “the electric car” or nuclear power. In fact, Obama proposes lots of new spending on alternative energy and vehicles, and says, at least, that he’s open to building new nuclear plants if safety issues are addressed. Then there’s McCain’s July ad that preposterously claims that Obama is personally responsible for higher gas prices, even though McCain himself has said that the problem was “30 years in the making.”

Gas Price Fixes that Won’t  May 2

McCain’s Power Outage  June 20

Distorting Obama  June 26

A Full Tank of Nonsense  July 22

Wind Power Puffery  August 8

Obama’s Energy Errors

Obama has committed his share of energy-related misleads, too. In July, we caught him saying that his plan will “fast track alternatives” to imported oil. In reality, Obama’s offers a 10-year research and development fund, which doesn’t sound all that “fast” to us. Obama also claimed that if Americans properly inflated their tires, we could save as much oil as offshore drilling would produce. That’s true in the very short term, but not over the long haul. And Obama, too, has distorted McCain’s energy claims. He accused McCain of receiving $2 million from the oil and gas industry; that figure was $700,000 too high at the time. And Obama continues to claim that McCain will give $4 billion in tax breaks to oil companies. But these tax cuts are the result of an across-the-board decrease in corporate tax rates, which would also benefit companies that provide alternative energy.

Straining a Point  July 17

Obama’s Overstatement  August 4

The Truth About Tire Pressure  August 14

Correction: We originally wrote that Obama accused McCain of receiving $2 billion from the oil and gas industry. The figure was actually $2 million, $700,000 too high at the time.

McCain: Obama Desn’t Take Iran Seriously


McCain has launched two different deceptive attacks on Obama’s Iran policy. Back in June, McCain implied that Obama did not support naming Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. And more recently, McCain blasted Obama for saying that Iran was “tiny” and “didn’t pose a serious threat.” Both claims are seriously misleading. It’s true that Obama voted against an amendment that would have named the IRGC a terrorist organization. But Obama opposed the bill for other reasons and had earlier cosponsored a different bill that would have named the IRGC a terrorist group. And as for Obama’s assessment of the Iranian threat: He actually said that Iran is tiny compared with the Soviet Union and doesn’t pose a serious threat the way the Soviet Union and its thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles did. McCain left that qualifier out.

Soft on Iran  June 5

Context Included: Obama on Iran  August 27


Obama: McCain wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years


We first caught the DNC distorting McCain’s remarks all the way back in February. But that didn’t stop the DNC or the Obama campaign from continuing to say that McCain wanted to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years. In fact, McCain is referring to a peacetime presence in Iraq, as the full context of McCain’s remarks makes clear. Here’s what McCain actually said, in a Jan. 3 town hall meeting:

McCain, town hall meeting, Jan. 3: Maybe a hundred. … We’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as Americans, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. It’s fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world.

Smear or Be Smeared  February 8

DNC vs. McCain  April 29

He’s Against the Troops


We’ve caught both candidates distorting their opponent’s record on support for military personnel and veterans:

  • In July, McCain released an ad saying that Obama “made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops” when the Pentagon “wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.” Although the individual claims are all true, the implication is false. Obama had previously visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed and in Baghdad – both without cameras in tow. He did cancel a visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany after the Pentagon told him that Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jonathan Scott Gration, an Obama foreign policy adviser, would not be permitted to accompany him. Obama said afterward that he had “a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political.”
    Snubbing Wounded Troops  July 28
  • McCain released a July ad accusing Obama of “voting against funding our troops.” The ad refers to a single 2007 vote against a war funding bill. Obama voted for a version of the bill that included language calling for withdrawing troops from Iraq. President Bush vetoed it. (McCain supported that veto, but didn’t call it “vetoing support for our troops.”) What Obama voted against was the same bill without withdrawal language. And he had voted yes on at least 10 other war funding bills prior to that single 2007 no vote.
    The Truth on Troop Support  July 22
  • In his convention acceptance speech, Obama twisted McCain’s words about Afghanistan, saying, “When John McCain said we could just ‘muddle through’ in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources.” Actually, McCain said in 2003 we “may” muddle through, and he had recently called for more troops there himself.
    FactChecking Obama  August 29
  • In May, McCain claimed that Obama is the chair of a subcommittee with oversight over the war in Afghanistan but has failed to hold a single hearing on the subject. But while Obama’s subcommittee does have jurisdiction over NATO, which is supplying about half of the troops in Afghanistan, his subcommittee does not have jurisdiction over Afghanistan proper.
    Obama and European Affairs Subcommittee June 20
  • In September, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden accused McCain of calling a GI Bill McCain voted against “too generous.” Biden’s line was similar to an earlier AFL-CIO ad that accused McCain of voting against increasing health care benefits for veterans. McCain actually voted for an increase in health care funding for vets, though the version he supported contained smaller increases than some Democratic-sponsored alternatives. And McCain did refer to Sen. Jim Webb’s proposed GI Bill as “more generous” than the version he supported, but “more generous” is not the same as “too generous.”
    AFL-CIO Falsely Attacks McCain  July 10
    Stretching with Biden  September 18
More Misleads and Factual Fumbles
  • McCain and Palin have both falsely claimed that Alaska produces 20 percent of the U.S. domestic energy supply and/or 20 percent of the U.S. domestic oil and natural gas supply. Both claims are false. Alaska produces about 3.5 percent of the U.S. domestic energy supply and about 7.4 percent of the U.S. domestic oil and gas supply.
  • McCain released an ad claiming that Obama’s “one accomplishment” in education was “legislation to teach ‘comprehensive sex education’ to kindergarteners.” That’s false. The bill was hardly Obama’s accomplishment as he was not even a cosponsor, and in any case, the bill didn’t make it out of the state Senate.
  • Obama quotes McCain as saying he wants to apply “Wall Street deregulation” to health care. That’s a distortion of McCain’s words. McCain actually limited his comparison just to the idea of allowing people to purchase health care policies across state lines.
  • McCain claims that U.S. oil imports send $700 billion per year to countries that don’t like us very much. That’s an exaggeration. In fact, we actually pay more like $536 billion for the oil we need, and one-third of those payments go to Canada, Mexico and the U.K.
  •  Obama has misrepresented some of McCain’s votes on school funding as votes for cutting education spending. In fact, of the five votes the Obama ad lists, one was for an increase in school funding (just a smaller one than Democrats wanted) and four others were against increases and not for spending cuts.
  • McCain has promised that he will balance the budget by 2013. That’s unlikely. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that without serious spending cuts, McCain’s tax proposals will actually increase the size of the debt between $5.1 trillion and $7.4 trillion over the next 10 years. So balancing the budget would require cutting federal spending by 25 percent. McCain, however, has proposed very few specific spending cuts.

– by Joe Miller, with the staff of FactCheck.org