Throughout the course of the 2010 Congressional midterm campaigns, candidates threw out countless fibs, questionable assertions, whoppers and half-truths. These are our candidates for the most misleading campaign ads of 2010, what are yours?
Big Lie #1: Health Care Reform Guts Medicare
In a nationally coordinated effort, Republicans and pro-Republican groups attacked Democrats for supporting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), making misleading allegations that the health care reform bill will lead to cuts in Medicare benefits. Many of the ads came from "outside interest groups" like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, the 60 Plus Association and Americans For Prosperity, who ran nearly identical ads across the country. Attacks also came from "official" Republican groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as candidates themselves.
The truth is that the "cuts" do not come from limiting benefits, but from negotiated reductions in payments to hospitals and other providers, changes in the privately-administered and fee-based Medicare Advantage plan, and measures to reduce waste and clamp down on fraud. Despite the $533 billion in cost savings, data from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office states that Medicare spending will still grow annually, but at about 5.5% rather than 6.8%.
Not only are these ads misleading, but Republicans positioning themselves as defenders of Medicare is also misleading. Republicans have been trying to cut Medicare for more than forty years. What's more, during the ACA debate, Republicans attacked Democrats for making the exact same Medicare cuts the GOP had once proposed. Even if Republican empathy for those who will be "losing Medicare" was disingenuous, it was effective: voters over 65 favored Republicans by a 21-point margin.
Big Lie #2: Democrats Will Raise Taxes November 1
Throughout the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans claimed that Democrats were ready to impose massive tax increase on Americans come January 1, 2011. This inaccurate and misleading fear was perpetuated by several TV ads from Republican candidates, chain emails, in television interviews (including several statements by Sarah Palin with the help of hand-notes).
Former President George W. Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are set to expire at the end of this year, cuts that were never offset by spending decreases or otherwise accounted for, and which contributed significantly to America's budget deficits. If no action were taken to extend these cuts, Americans' taxes would revert to pre-2001 levels. However, President Obama's intention to extend the Bush tax cuts for the majority of Americans is reflected in his 2011 budget, fulfilling his campaign promise to cut taxes for the middle class. For Congressional Democrats, it has not been an issue of whether to extend tax cuts for most Americans, but "when -- and for how long."
For the wealthiest members of society, Democrats planned to return tax rates to the pre-2001 levels of 39.6% for all income earned over $200,000 per year ($250,000 for joint-filers). This would be an increase of less than 5% from current rates, and is nowhere near the upper-income-bracket tax rates during the twenty years between 1944 and 1964 (a period of enormous economic growth), when the richest members of society were taxed above 90%.
Surprisingly, the misleading attacks may be working. Although Democrats made a pledge to extend tax cuts for low-and-middle income individuals, and only allow cuts to expire for the richest members of society, they may be backing down. In order to keep taxes low for the middle class, some presidential advisors are now suggesting they will submit to Republican demands for extending upper-bracket tax cuts-- a reversal that could create $700 billion in lost revenue over 10 years and aggravate some of the worst income inequality in American history.
Big Lie #3: Stimulus Package Sends Jobs to China
China loomed large in the 2010 midterms, with both sides playing on fears of the country's rising power and concerns about job offshoring. Many Republicans were particularly vulnerable to accusations that they shipped jobs to China based on the party's overwhelming support for the 2001 "most favored nation status" trade agreement and other and free trade deals. Not surprisingly, a number of GOP candidates deployed the old campaign trick of attacking opponents for their own weaknesses. For instance, several Republicans ran misleading ads accusing their Democratic opponents of creating jobs in China by supporting the stimulus package.
These claims arose from an investigative report that discovered that some of the stimulus' reimbursement for renewable energy projects like wind turbines ($2 billion of the $700 billion stimulus package, or 2.8%) went to foreign-owned wind power companies domestically and abroad. Republicans (in Nebraska, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, or Washington State) ran ads stating, for example, that "China gets $2 billion to build windmills," that the package "sent nearly $2 billion overseas to create jobs in China," or that the stimulus otherwise brought jobs to China.
These claims are completely offbase. The ads cite the total amount of stimulus money that found its way to foreign wind energy developers at the time of the IRW report, NOT the amount that went to China. Based on the latest figures, only 0.0000037% of the total $700 billion stimulus package, $2.6 million, may have made its way to China. The stimulus bill also created or saved over 1.6 million American jobs.
Moreover, a majority of Senate Republicans opposed the stimulus package's "Buy American" provision, which would have mandated that only U.S.-made goods be used in projects funded by the bill; a weakened version was in the final bill. Regardless, these GOP candidates feel comfortable accusing Democrats of sending jobs to China when members of their party opposed the provisions intended to prevent just that.
Big Lie #4: Latinos Don't Speak English
Many candidates calculated that reaching out to xenophobes would be more effective than courting the Latino vote. Immigration was a major issue in many border states, but in some places, GOP candidates went beyond discussing immigration as a policy issue and crossed the line into blatant racism. The discriminatory discourse implied that Latinos are illegal and not really Americans, and that politicians who support equality don't support public safety.
In Nevada, Republican Senatorial candidate Sharon Angle attacked Democratic incumbent Harry Reid by running ads juxtaposing white families and schoolchildren with menacing Latino men stalking through trainyards or creeping through the night. Nevadan Latinos were also briefly subjected to ads by the Republican front group Latinos for Reform urging them not to vote, a ploy which may have backfired. In Colorado, the Tea Party-supported American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo (who had much broader support than official GOP candidate Dan Maes) ran on an anti-immigrant platform, running one ad that tried to blame Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper's immigrant-friendly policies for the death of a child, and another that attempts to criticize "spineless politicians" who refuse to secure the border from terrorists who "froth with hate" and "come to kill." In California, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman presented entirely different messages when advertising in different languages, presenting herself as a "friend to Latinos" in Spanish and taking an anti-immigrant stance and making baseless claims against undocumented college students in English.
Candidates running these ads forgot a few important facts—Latinos speak English and they vote. The Latino vote helped Democrats win in each of these states, and the harsh rhetoric pushed Latinos further into the Democrat's camp. Latinos, America's fastest growing group of voters, voted three-to-one for Democrats in the 2010 midterms (75% to 25%), as compared to just six years ago, when Latinos voted for Democratic candidate John Kerry over President George W. Bush by only a three-to-two margin (59% to 40%). Immigration is not always a party-line issue (Democrats have also courted controversy by supporting anti-immigrant policies), but because Latino turnout made the difference in key states, we hope candidates of all stripes have learned their lesson on this one.
Many thanks to Brendan Fischer for contributing to this article.