False Equivalencies: The Donald and Clinton Are Both Liars


WC learned as a pre-schooler that all politicians lie. Rep. Edith Bullock, a member of the Alaska Territorial Legislature, came to Bethel in 1955. At a reception at the Moravian Church, she picked up WC’s 3-year old younger brother, who was throwing a tantrum and screaming at the top of his lungs, and said, against all the evidence, “What a lovely child.”1

So the question, for WC, has never been, “Do politicians lie?” but rather what do they lie about and how often. You’ll agree, WC thinks, that there’s a difference between Rep. Bullock’s little white lie and, say, Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” or Bill Cinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman.” Lying to be polite is an accepted tradition; lying about sex is an American tradition; lying about trying to rig and election might be a little more serious.

All of which takes us to the current presidential election.

One lingering idea in what passes for the current political debate is that Secretary Clinton is a frequent and compulsive liar; that the Trumpster is a gutsy truth-teller. Others claim that they are both equally guilty serial liars and therefore both unworthy of your vote. With a little help from a couple of fact-checking services, WC set out to find out if one is worse than the other.

Candidate Hillary Clinton Donald Trump
PolitiFact 27 percent 70 percent
PolitiFact Pants-on-Fire 2 percent 19 percent
WaPo Fact-Checker Four Pinocchios 16 percent 64 percent

So the lingering claim that Secretary Clinton is the liar and The Donald the truth-teller is patently false. It’s not even close. If there were a trophy for pathological lying, the Trumpster has long since retired the trophy.

Likewise, the claim that they are both equally guilty of lying is false. Especially when it comes to over-the-top lies, the “Pants on Fire” and “Four Pinocchios” kind of lies, the Trumpster is four to ten times worse, depending one who is counting. That’s not a trivial difference.

So it’s not just a matter of Secretary Clinton wrongfully being accused of being the more egregious liar. It’s also a false equivalency. False equivalence is a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none. 27 percent does not equal 70 percent; 2 percent does not equal 19 percent.

Back in March, Politico chronicled a week of Trump remarks and found on average one misstatement every five minutes. The Huffington Post once chronicled 71 inaccuracies in an hourlong town hall session — more than one a minute.

There’s a nice take-down by one of the Trumpster’s former lawyers, Tom Wells, if you think WC is exaggerating.

Some readers may challenge the sources, claiming bias. But any careful, objective reader, looking through the hundreds of instances of the Trumpster’s serial lies, fabrications, distortions, prevarications and whoppers, will acknowledge the false equivalency. Another reason to vote for Secretary Clinton: there are political lies and then there is The Donald.

 


  1. Okay, WC admits he isn’t sure if he actually remembers this happening or if being told the family story a few dozen times makes WC think he remembers it. The nature of memory will have to be in another blog post. 
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