In Politics, Who Actually Lies the Most?

Over the weekend, the stakes got higher in the great game of Liar’s Poker that seems to have replaced the presidential campaign. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Senate majority leader Harry Reid a “dirty liar.” Connoisseurs of lying will recognize this as far worse than just a regular liar.

Sadly, we all assume politicians and political figures lie, but who actually lies the most? One simple way to measure this is to let someone else do the work. Someone like Politifact, a non-partisan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning, fact-checking organization that takes Democrats and Republicans to task. They use the cute ranking system that rates statements from “True” down to “Mostly False” all the way to “Pants on Fire.”

I looked up the overall stats of a number of politicians and high-profile sources, then totaled the number of statements that were checked by Politifact, and figured out the percentage that were rated “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.” Some of the results may surprise you:

1. President Barack Obama, despite what you may read on the farthest reaches of the Internet, came out with the lowest percentage of lies. He had the largest total number of statements that had been checked for accuracy and he lied in “only” 29 percent of them. I’m sorry to tell you this, but this is one of the best records of any high-profile, frequently quoted political figure I could find.

One example of an Obama statement rated “Pants of Fire”: He said Mitt Romney “backed a bill that outlaws all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.” Politifact noted that last summer Romney wrote an op-ed in which he said: “I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.” Of course to be fair to Obama, Romney has been all over the place on that issue.

2. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, lied 36 percent of the time. She draws a lot of fire from the right wing, but she gets it correct more often than most of her critics do.

3. John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, lied in 39 percent of his checked statements. One of his statements that Politifact found to be “Mostly False” was: “The Social Security trust fund … is already facing imminent bankruptcy.” Politifact found that the program is not out of money or unable to pay benefits, and at the current pace, should continue to be paid in full for about 25 years.

4. Nancy Pelosi, the former Democratic Speaker of the House and current Majority Leader, was found to be untruthful 40 percent of the time. One of her statements Politifact found “False” was: “Under the health care law, everybody will have lower rates, better quality care and better access.” Politifact pointed out that the CBO estimates 8 percent of people who now have insurance will end up paying more. Note to politicians: avoid absolutes, like “all” or “none.”

5. Sarah Palin lied 41 percent of the time. This will likely come as a surprise to many critics of the Maverick from Wassilla, Alaska. But then, she has kept a relatively low profile of late. Maybe that’s a good strategy for her. One example of a “Pants on Fire” rating for Palin: “Democrats are poised now to cause this largest tax increase in U.S. history.” Not true. Reagan raised taxes more.

6. Mitt Romney’s camp cannot be particularly happy to find out that his “un-truthiness” rating of 42 percent is worse than Sarah Palin’s. Politifact rated as “False” his statement that: “Obamacare puts the federal government between you and your doctor.” Romneycare is virtually the same as Obamacare. And when I go to see my doctor, there’s no one else in the room. When I get a prescription, it’s from my doctor. When I get the bill, it’s from my doctor. Am I missing something?

7. Michele Bachmann is lying through those pearly white teeth most of the time. Seventy-two percent of her rated statements were found to be false. One of Bachmann’s 12 statements rated flat-out “Pants on Fire”: Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, “put into place socialized medicine.” (See above.)

8. Allen West, the Tea Party favorite and representative from Florida, gets a rating just worse than Bachmann’s. West lies 73 percent of the time. In one of his biggest whoppers, West said: about 78 to 81 House Democrats “are members of the Communist Party. … It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”

9. Rush Limbaugh, de facto leader of the far right, apparently lies whenever his lips are moving. According to Politifact, Limbaugh lied in 80 percent of his checked statements. One of them must have been pretty easy for the folks at Politifact to check-out: Limbaugh claimed that people “can’t go fishing anymore because of Obama.”

10. Last, and least reliable of all the sources of political information, comes: The Chain email. Politifact could not check them all, of course, but of those that were notable enough to check, they found that 86 percent were lies, such as: “Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie made a late-night visit to Kinko’s to forge President Barack Obama’s birth certificate two days before Obama unveiled it to the media.”

So, there you go. They could all do a better job of telling the truth, but it’s clear that some are much worse than others. And some, like Rush Limbaugh, are statistically as reliable a source of truthful information as a randomly selected a first grader.

And just to be completely honest, I made that last fact up. My apologies to first graders everywhere.