The American public was treated to an enthusiastic and entertaining vice presidential debate on Thursday night when Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan were at loggerheads over issues such as unemployment, Medicare and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. However, while Biden’s performance in the freewheeling discussion was, undoubtedly, more rooted in actual facts than his opponent's, both candidates stretched the truth on more than one occasion.
Here are some of the worst blunders of the night:
Ryan alleged President Barack Obama said unemployment would never go above 8 percent.
Politifact reports the source of Ryan’s statement came from a January 2009 report called “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” from Christina Romer, the then-chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, the vice president’s former top economic adviser.
To make a long story short, the report projected that by instituting the president's economic stimulus legislation, the unemployment rate would peak at just under 8 percent in 2009. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. But the authors themselves emphasized that “it should be understood that all of the estimates presented in this memo are subject to significant margins of error.”
In a speech, then-President-elect Obama said the report’s findings estimated the stimulus would “ likely” save or create up to 4 million jobs. But he also specifically said those numbers were based on projections included in the Romer-Bernstein report, and he never guaranteed unemployment would dip below 8 percent.
Biden claimed Romney said that he would not “move heaven and earth” to capture Osama bin Laden.
In reality, there was more to Romney’s position than Biden let on. In a 2007 interview with the Associated Press -- when bin Laden was still very much alive -- Romney did say “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending millions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” However, in context, Romney wasn’t saying that he would not go after terrorists if elected president -- just that bin Laden was not his only target.
“He’s by no means the only leader. It’s a very diverse group -- Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and of course different names throughout the world,” Romney said.
Ryan called the Affordable Care Act a “government takeover of health care.”
The allegation that the health care reform legislations constitutes a “government takeover” of the industry was voted Politifact’s 2010 “Lie of the Year.”
Under the law, employers continue to provide health insurance to most Americans via private insurance.
The law actually expands coverage via private health insurance companies, and those insurers will compete to provide coverage for those who don’t have it through state “exchanges” created by the legislation. Further, because the ACA does not nationalize hospitals or doctors and does not include a public option (a government-run insurance plan that would have competed with private insurers), Politifact concluded that the idea that the law would empower a government “takeover” of the health care industry is “simply not true.”
Biden: “Romney said, ‘No, let Detroit go bankrupt.’”
The statement is drawn from a headline “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” that the New York Times applied to an op-ed column written by Romney. In the article, he argued for a “managed bankruptcy” that Factcheck.org reports is essentially what happened to General Motors and Chrysler, with assistance from both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Romney did, however, use the phrase “Let Detroit go bankrupt” during a subsequent appearance on Fox News.
Ryan says stimulus money is being spent on electric cars in Finland and windmills in China.
In an exchange about the effectiveness of Obama’s stimulus package, Ryan asked Biden whether “it was a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland, or on windmills in China?”
In fact, an American car company, Fisker Automotive, won $528 million in loan guarantees to build two, high-end electric hybrids. While the engineering and design for one of those models was completed in the United States, the U.S. Dept. of Energy says they planned on building those cars in Finland from the beginning. The funding for Fisker Automotive did not come from the stimulus, but through a loan that was guaranteed through the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program.
As for the windmills in China, Politifact reports the Romney campaign sent them a report from the Investigative Reporting Workshop, a nonprofit journalism project at American University, to support their claim.
The report backs the claim that about $2.6 million worth of stimulus money went to Chinese makers of wind turbines. But the reporter found that none of the wind farms in the U.S. used turbines that were entirely built in China. According to the American Wind Energy Association, only about six Chinese turbines -- five in Texas and one in Iowa -- were paid for with American stimulus dollars.
But the industry trade group said the stimulus funded more than 12,000 turbine installations over three years, a huge majority of which were manufactured by American firms.
Biden says he wasn’t aware of security concerns among U.S. officials in Libya before the Benghazi attack.
Biden’s statement had been directly contradicted by U.S. State Department officials earlier in the week, in a witness' testimony before a congressional panel and via unclassified cables released by a congressional committee.
“All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources,” said Eric Nordstrom, the top regional security officer in Libya earlier this year. A Utah national guardsman who led a security team, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, said: “We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met.”
However, after the debate, the White House came out with a major clarification. On Friday, a spokesperson for the administration told Foreign Policy magazine that Biden was telling the truth, because he and President Obama were not aware of that funding request, although other members of the administration reportedly were.