Every day it gets harder to tell the difference between real life and the wacky, exaggerated reality of editorial cartoons. When you have a presidential candidate saying we should close our borders to all Muslims and stating that the party he's representing is made up of "the dumbest group of voters in the country," it's easy to see why people fall for bullshit political stories these days. Case in point: Donald Trump never said that about Republicans. Some meme-maker made it up.
Well, as it turns out, this is nothing new. Some of the most famous political talking points of the past decade were faker than Trump's ... university? Tweets? Birth certificate, ironically? We can't decide how to end that sentence. In the heat of a Facebook flame war, most of us have unwittingly repeated at least one of the following inaccuracies, misquotes, or flat-out lies:
Hey, remember this dumb old thing?
AP via The Nation
Arrested Development reference! Nice.
When George W. Bush gave a 2003 speech on an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that read "Mission Accomplished," the only way it could have been more American would have been if he had shot a communist after every sentence. But as time passed and Iraq grew more violent, what was supposed to be the president's crowning moment of badassery instead became a symbol of hubris and disdain over a supposedly easy conflict turning into a bigger quagmire than that game of Civilization you just can't get unstuck in.
But here's the thing: That banner wasn't Bush's idea. The Navy says they asked the White House to make the banner to celebrate the aircraft carrier's record-breaking deployment length. Other explanations have been batted around, but the general consensus seems to be that someone thought it would be cool to let the carrier crew celebrate their hard work, and then no one bothered to think through the optics, because giant banners are fun.
Juan E. Diaz/U.S. Navy
"Told you we should have gone with 'Git-R-Done.'"
That makes sense when you read the transcript of the speech, which includes things like "We have difficult work to do in Iraq" and "Our mission continues." In fact, Donald Rumsfeld personally kept the words "mission accomplished" out of the speech, because he'd seen Baghdad and knew it wasn't. Considering Iraq's current state, landing in a fighter plane and giving an upbeat speech still looks bad, but it wasn't the completely myopic clusterfuck we all remember it as. Political scandals are only ever allowed to be the greatest blunders ever or completely unjustifiable attacks, and in this case we settled on the former.
If you're a veteran Internetter, you've no doubt heard a joke or 80 about Al Gore inventing this wonderful, terrifying non-place we all live in. That, of course, isn't true: Everyone knows it was ... some nerds, probably. The claim is so absurd that people still use it to take cheap shots at the former vice president, like when Bobby Jindal sarcastically suggested that Gore could fix Healthcare.gov's launch problems.
Except Gore never said that. In 1999, during an otherwise everyday interview, Big Al was asked what made him different from a fellow Democratic presidential candidate, and he said: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." What Gore was alluding to was his longstanding Congressional support of bills that funded relevant work, but the awkward phrasing made it sound like he was claiming he threw the Internet together in his garage over a weekend.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Probably while high as fuck with his college roommate.
The bad wording would have been forgotten if a Wired writer hadn't needed a quick filler article and decided to poke fun at Gore's claim. The article went viral, and a legend was born. A year later, the Wired writer put out another piece saying that all the exaggeration of his first article was both dumb and completely obscuring the fact that Gore was actually essential in getting the Internet off the ground. Sadly, by then the damage was done and Gore lost the 2000 election to Bush for that reason and absolutely no others that are coming to mind. Who needs the White House when you've got the Internet Hall of Fame, anyway?
Mark Hirsch/Getty Images News/Getty Images
It's tough to think of a politician more widely mocked than Sarah Palin. Her reputation as the dullest crayon in the box was solidified when a reporter asked her what insights on Russia she's gleaned from living so close, and Palin said, "I can see Russia from my house."
That's a disturbingly Ralph Wiggum-esque answer for a politician, but the problem is that Palin didn't say that. Tina Fey did, in a Saturday Night Live segment mocking Palin.
Palin's actual answer of, "They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska," doesn't sound much better, but it came in the middle of an intense conversation on U.S.-Russia relations and the recent Russia-Georgia war. The interviewer himself had repeatedly brought up Alaska's proximity to Ivan Drago's homeland, so it wasn't a completely random answer.
We're not saying Palin is secretly a genius -- she fumbled the same question in other interviews, and there's also that time she said, well, everything else she's ever said. But she went from a politician completely unknown outside of Alaska to someone under a ridiculous amount of pressure and scrutiny, so it was harsh to judge her intelligence based on one dumb answer in her first tough interview. And hey, she was right about one thing: You totally can see Russia from an island in Alaska. You can't see into Putin's office, though.
Which is probably for the best, since it sounds like a "pants optional" type of place.
Joseph Wurzelbacher (what kind of pinko name is that for an American icon?) was your typical average Jim until he got the chance to ask presidential candidate Barack Obama if his tax plan would raise taxes on the small plumbing business he was planning to buy. Obama's admittance that, yeah, his taxes might go up a bit prompted the John McCain camp to constantly reference "Joe the Plumber" as an average American who would get screwed if Obama took charge.
via New York Magazine
"Well, I disagree. Superman gets worked up lifting an island, while
Goku destroys planets. There's just no contest."
This would have been a powerful example ... if absolutely any of it were true. Joe's question was the loaded "I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year. Your new tax plan's going to tax me more, isn't it?" which the media morphed into "I am a plumber who makes over a quarter of a million dollars a year, because I plumb for the stars."
Also, "getting ready to buy a company" meant "I've talked about taking over for my boss one day, maybe." And "plumber" meant "unlicensed plumber." And "$250,000 to $280,000 a year" meant "it would sure be nice if I made that much someday, even though the average 'plumber' in my position makes between 40 and 70 grand."
"Barely enough to feed one of my three Seagals."
Basically, a guy asked a question about what would happen if his purely hypothetical pipe dream (no pun intended) came true, and this turned him into a typical, relatable American who makes $250k a year just like you and us. He became the average "victim" of Obama's tax policy, despite the fact he never would have been affected by it unless he won the lottery. Obama's been in power for eight years now and Joe got a book deal instead of a spot in a breadline, so he's probably doing OK.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
You all remember the one, right? Here's a refresher for those who don't:
Howard Dean was a frontrunner for the 2004 Democratic nomination when he decided to roleplay "cowboy sitting on a cactus" in a moment that destroyed his campaign, because voters don't like the idea of putting America's nuclear arsenal in the hands of a man who reminds them of Major T.J. Kong. But let's listen to a different angle:
Not only does his scream no longer sound like that of a pained cat, but it makes complete sense in context. The crowd of 3,500 was going nuts for him; who wouldn't get pumped up and exuberant in that environment? With his audio isolated in that first clip he sounds like a crazy person, but once you get a sense of the room it would be weirder if he wasn't loud. In fact, most people in the crowd weren't even aware he screamed until they saw it on TV later.
Of course, it's only the first clip that was shown over and over again -- the tight, isolated shot of Dean that revealed nothing about the crowd was played 633 times by cable news channels over the next four days. The news started portraying him as a crazy person, Dave Chappelle and others mocked it, and his campaign was pretty much done. The irony is that Dean had just come off a disappointing third place result in the Iowa caucuses and needed a fiery speech to re-energize his supporters. But at least he'll forever be immortalized in political lore, and the scream itself made it into an episode of Breaking Bad for some inexplicable reason.
"I am the one who, uh, screams?"
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images
It's not hard to believe rumors about old, rich, white dudes. We want to believe they're dodging taxes and investing in puppy-operated blood-diamond mines, because that makes it even more outrageous that they can buy 27 tennis courts while we're debating between different brands of bulk ramen. So when Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and accused the ultra-rich Mitt Romney of not paying taxes for a decade, that seemed like the logical explanation behind the wealth of a man who was practically trying to buy the presidency.
And so Romney released his tax returns ... and it turned out he did pay them. Hence, you know, the returns.
Sure, Romney paid fewer taxes than most Americans in his bracket, but that's a systemic problem with collection, not evidence he was squirreling Scrooge McDuckian levels of wealth away in the Cayman Islands. So, what was Reid's justification? Was he led astray by an elaborate forgery? Was he under pressure to attack Romney? Did some random nobody assure him it was totes legit? Yeah, it was the last one. This was the rich white guy version of the Birther conspiracy.
Reid refused to name his possibly nonexistent source or provide credible evidence, and when later asked whether he regretted making shit up his only response was "Romney didn't win, did he?"
While we're defending this rich and fairly successful politician, remember when Romney was secretly filmed telling his fellow snooty rich people that 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax and would therefore automatically vote for Obama? If that sounded like classist scaremongering about poor people ... well, yeah, a lot of what he went on to say totally was. But 47 percent of American households actually don't pay income tax (although they do pay other forms of taxes), and those Americans did skew toward voting for Obama. So from a purely strategic level, Romney wasn't wrong -- we'll let you judge the level of tasteful political discourse.
To our youngest readers, "swift boating" sounds like something unseemly you'd want to do to Taylor Swift. But if you harken back to yonder 2004 presidential election, Swift Vets and POWs for Truth were a group of Vietnam veterans who loudly questioned John Kerry's Vietnam War record. The Republicans started throwing money at them, and what resulted was a damning series of allegations that seriously hurt Kerry's electoral chances ... even though they had about as much truth as our fanfic where Kerry and Rambo fight Skeletor.
Now, the veterans weren't made up -- they really had served in Vietnam, and they really did hate the shit out of Kerry. But of the approximately 250 who claimed to be proponents of truth, a whole one had actually served with him. Most had almost certainly never heard of the guy until he came home and started making a name for himself as a war protestor.
Kerry had a habit of speaking bluntly about civilian massacres, which didn't sit well with soldiers who saw Vietnam as the bestest war ever. And because being pro-Vietnam War isn't really the sort of thing you let go of, Kerry's presidential campaign was the perfect chance for revenge.
It reached the point where they were claiming Kerry had won the Silver Star by gunning down an unarmed, fleeing teenager, presumably while cackling wildly and masturbating. Veterans who actually had served alongside Kerry started talking about him in ways that really make us want to see a John Kerry action movie, but you know the old saying about a lie getting halfway around the world in a swift boat before truth has its shoes on.
Kerry's critics were able to offer up a whopping zero proof, but the damage was done. After the election, Jeb Bush sent the group a letter thanking them for helping his brother, and they spent $130,000 to have a "Mission Accomplished" celebration at Disney World. No, seriously. There's no word on whether they had a banner, though.
Ty Wright/Getty Images News/Getty Images
No, not everything about Kim Davis being a homophobe -- that's super true. But everyone's new favorite shorthand for an intolerant person has a lot of misinformation swirling around her, possibly because her lawyer, Mat Staver, is an agent of Beelzebub tasked with sowing discord upon our fair Earth. You may recall that Staver showed off a picture of 100,000 people in a Peruvian soccer stadium who had gathered to pray for Davis:
Family Research Council
"Get well soon, we loved you as Vicki Bale in Batman."
This caused quite the stir, except it wasn't true because of course it wasn't. The picture was from a totally unrelated event, because Peruvians, and humans in general, have countless better things to do. After his obvious bluff was called, Staver blamed the incident on "miscommunication with the Peruvian authorities who gave him the photo," implying we're supposed to believe that the evil nation of Peru handed him this photograph as a gesture of support for a Kentucky county clerk. Now's a good time to point out that Staver's law firm has been labeled an anti-gay hate group that routinely lies to push its agenda.
Then Staver dropped the real shocker: Davis had met with Pope Francis, who thanked her for her courage and told her to "stay strong." What happened, Pope Francis? You seemed so cool. Well, the Vatican quickly pointed out that the pope didn't endorse Davis' views or know the details of her case beforehand, "gave her no more than a typical brief greeting, despite what her lawyer described," refuted Staver's claim that the pope had personally requested the meeting and pointed out that the pope's only formal audience was with an old friend of his. Oh, and that man's boyfriend of 19 years.
This is how an organization run by the old and devout drops a mic.
You can read more from Mark at his website, which is run by Al Gore.
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