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Economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) said: “Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.” Politicians have apparently taken Galbraith’s words to heart.

Through advertisements and meetings with voters, they are quick to trumpet a litany of accomplishments and virtues. Most recently, the Republican nominee for governor of Georgia, David Perdue, told Morehouse College students that his father, in his role as a superintendent of Schools, desegregated the Houston County schools. Perdue said his father “integrated I think the first — if not the first or second — county school system in Georgia, and he did it before they had to. He did it right after he got elected, and he did it because it was the right thing to do.” Perdue failed to mention the fact that the desegregation plan was instituted after the NAACP successfully challenged the “Freedom of Choice” plan instituted by the Houston County School Board, which allowed but did not mandate integration.

Perhaps the most egregious exaggeration in U.S. political history of a candidate’s background was the yarn spun by William Henry Harrison, who was elected President in 1840. Harrison was raised in a patrician family. His father was once Governor of Virginia. Yet Harrison brilliantly styled himself as “one of us.” He dressed the part of a humble down-home candidate and boasted of the fact that he had lived in a log cabin. While it was true that Harrison once lived in a log cabin, it was only briefly after retiring from government service. Contrary to popular belief at the time, he was not born in a log cabin. Yet this tactic helped Harrison get elected. In fact, one of Harrison’s supporter, Whisky distiller E.G. Booze, sold whisky in log-cabin-shaped bottles during the campaign to promote this master narrative (This is where the word booze came from.) Harrison’s ploy worked and he was elected president. However, he was not able to do much as President, as he died of pneumonia just 31 days after his inauguration.

Lyndon B. Johnson had a fascination with the Alamo. His father, Samuel Johnson Jr., wrote legislation to give control of the Alamo to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In 1966, while visiting troops in South Korea, Johnson accurately said that there is a picture of his father inside the Alamo. He then went a step too far by mendaciously claiming that his great-great-grandfather had died in the Alamo. In actuality, the great-great-grandfather that Johnson was referring to was a real-estate trader who died at home. When confronted with this inaccuracy, Johnson creatively told Press Secretary George Christian:”You all didn’t let me finish. It was the Alamo Bar and Grill in Eagle Pass, Texas.”

Perhaps the most famous political exaggeration has been grossly exaggerated in and of itself. When someone asks the question: “Who invented the Internet?” someone will invariably quip: “Al Gore.” It is popular belief that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. This belief however is false. In reality, Gore told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Gore was referring to his role as the lead sponsor of the 1991 High-performance Computing and Communications Act, which appropriated $600 million for high-performance computing and co-sponsored the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act of 1992. Critics chided Gore for his statement and falsely claimed that Gore had said he “invented the Internet.” U.S. House Majority leader Dick Armey (R-TX) joked: “If the vice president created the Internet then I created the Interstate.”

However, Gore has exaggerated other facts in his past. During his failed 1988 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Gore told the Des Moines Register that in his early days as a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, he got “a bunch of people indicted and sent to jail.” However, it was later revealed that Gore’s reporting resulted in just two municipal officials being indicted, and neither was jailed.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also has a history of exaggerating the facts. During his two Presidential campaigns, Romney continuously claimed that as governor of Massachusetts he made the “tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes.” Romney was referring to the $3 billion budget shortfall he inherited when he assumed office in 2003. Romney did not mention that he raised over $500 million in “fees.” Romney also raised corporate taxes under the guise of closing corporate loopholes and truncating local aid to the state’s municipalities. This forced municipalities to cut services and/or raise property taxes on their residents.

Similarly, in 2007, Republican Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney told a voter: “I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.” It was later revealed that Romney had only hunted twice in his life. Romney later said: “I’m not a big-game hunter. I’ve made that very clear. I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will.”

Candidates with military experience often brandish this experience on the campaign trail, and occasionally get themselves into trouble. During his 2008 bid for an open U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, it was revealed that the Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal had on two occasions claimed he served as a Marine “in Vietnam.” Blumenthal had in fact served in the Marines during the Vietnam era, but never served in Vietnam. He apologized for the remarks and despite this exaggeration was elected to the Senate by twelve points.

An amusing exaggeration came from Mark Roosevelt, the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts Governor in 1994. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he made the following comment about his tenure in the Massachusetts State Legislature: “A record of accomplishment probably unsurpassed by any legislator in the 20th century in Massachusetts.” Roosevelt later retracted the comment, stating: “I can be sanctimonious.” Roosevelt lost the Gubernatorial election, garnering less than 30 percent of the vote.

Politics is not the profession for the modest. To a great extent a politician has to be a salesperson. He/she must master the art of bragging about himself over and over again without overdoing it, appearing supercilious.

It takes a certain personality type to be ready, willing, and able to repeatedly tell voters of his/her stellar attributes. As the aforementioned cases reveal, politicians sometimes go a step too far and exaggerate what they have accomplished, sometimes losing all credibility. Robert Strauss, who served as chairman of the Democratic Party, captured this phenomenon of political exaggeration best when he said: “Every politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself.”


There is disenchantment on the left with Barack Obama. Many progressives agree with sentiment recently expressed by Professor Cornell West, a professor at the Union Theological Seminary, who recently told Salon Magazine: “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street Presidency, a drone Presidency.”

Despite this claim by Professor West, Obama did not campaign for President in 2008 as a tribune of the left. Instead he campaigned as a candidate of bipartisanship. On some campaign issues Obama was even to the right of President George W. Bush. In fact, Obama was elected in part by winning 60% of moderate voters and 20% of conservative voters.

In political advertisements, Obama did not present himself as an unadulterated progressive. He held himself out as a post partisan figure that would work toward bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. Obama featured Kirk Dillard, a Republican who worked with Obama when both served in the Illinois State Senate, in a campaign advertisement wherein Dillard explains: “Senator Obama worked on some of the deepest issues we had, and he was successful in a bipartisan way. Republican legislators respected Senator Obama. His negotiation skills and an ability to understand both sides would serve the country very well.”

Obama entered the national stage in 2004. After garnering the Democratic nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry tapped him to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. While progressives were mesmerized by the delivery of his speech, it was hardly a clarion call to them. Obama did not call for a major expansion of the Social Safety net, or for a more nimble foreign policy, but delivered a mostly platitudinous speech centered on the commonalities of Americans of all ideological persuasions. His signature line was: “There is no red America or blue America. There is the United States of America.”

Liberals saw what they wanted to see in Obama, while turning a blind eye to what the President was actually saying. Now some Progressives are indignant that the President is essentially governing on what he campaigned about.

Obama’s main appeal to liberals in the 2008 campaign was that he was the only major Democratic Presidential candidate who opposed the authorization of the use of force in Iraq, which the U.S. Congress approved in 2002. Obama, no pacifist, told a Chicago crowd that year: “I am not opposed to all wars, I’m opposed to dumb wars.” Progressives saw only Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq, failing to recognize his support for a more robust, interventionist foreign policy, which included using military force abroad.

Obama was a hawk on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He was explicit in his view that the U.S. should expand its military involvement there. Obama told a Pennsylvania rally in 2008 that the war in Iraq “distracted us from the task at hand in Afghanistan.” Obama made no effort to couch his bellicose policy on Afghanistan, writing in a New York Times op-ed column: “As President I would pursue a new strategy and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan.”

In addition, while enmity proliferates on the left for Obama’s ambitious use of predator drones, Obama was no critic of the use of predator drones during the campaign. In an address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in 2007, Obama averred that as President he would order attacks inside Pakistan even absent permission of the Pakistani government: “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President [Pervez] Musharraf (Pakistani President) won’t act, we will.”

On both the issue of Afghanistan and the potential use of predator drones in Pakistan, Obama was, in reality, to the right of the Bush administration. This was not a progressive position.

Progressives often excoriate Obama for his failure to condemn the military policies of the Israeli Government, and the fact that he is the only world leader who opposed the Palestinian Authority’s bid to achieve statehood through the United Nations. Yet on this issue too, Obama performed as advertised. During the campaign, Obama presented himself as a supporter of the Israeli government. He said that for a peace agreement to be achieved, “The Palestinians would have to reinterpret the notion of ‘right of return’ in a way that would persevere Israel as a Jewish state.” In 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon, Obama co-sponsored a Senate resolution defending the attack. In fact, he delivered his first foreign policy speech of the campaign before the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

Furthermore, Obama was an exponent of increasing sanctions on Iran to prevent that country from constructing nuclear weapons, and Obama would not take the military option off the table. In addition, Obama supported adding the former Soviet satellites of Georgia and the Ukraine to NATO, a very bold move sure to antagonize Russia.

On domestic issues, then Senator Obama voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which allocated $700 billion to bailout the banking system. Opposition to the bailout became a battle cry for liberals. In fact, U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) publicly exclaimed: “Is this the United States Congress or the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs?” Goldman Sachs employees were the largest donors to Obama’s 2008 campaign, contributing nearly $1,000,000 collectively. The Financial Services industry donated a collective $43 million to the Obama campaign. Somehow, progressives seemed not to have noticed this not so subtle pattern of behavior on the part of Obama.

Moreover, in 2006, then Senator Obama voted for reauthorization of The USA Patriot Act, whose repeal became a cause célèbre with the progressive intelligencia. In 2008, Obama came off the campaign trail to vote for the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expanded the federal government’s warrantless wiretapping program. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that President Obama signed a five-year extension of the statute.

Despite what many progressives seem to believe, Obama has not departed from his campaign ideals. The failure to comprehend what Obama actually campaigned on is now leading to righteous anger by Progressives. However, the facts show that Obama’s presidency is no great departure from the way in which he presented himself while campaigning for the Presidency. He has been true to his campaign ideals. Progressives simply put their blinders on, heard what they wanted to hear, and did not stop to listen to what Obama was actually saying during the campaign.


Rand Paul’s Potential ‘Brian Schweitzer Problem’

September 9, 2014

In referring to the reasons for the September 11 hijackings, Republican U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) stated in a 2007 South Carolina Republican presidential debate “They attack us because we’ve been over there.” He was referring to the nation’s interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. Paul later pointed out that by meddling in the […]

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In the Political Arena an Underdog Challenger Must Be Creative to Force an Incumbent to a Debate

August 5, 2014

In every election cycle, voters witness the spectacle of an underdog candidate challenging an incumbent elected official to participate in a series of debates. This is usually a starting bid, with the underdog hoping the incumbent will engage in at least one debate. A debate is an opportunity for a challenger to share the same […]

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When a Political Gaffe Torpedoes a Political Candidate

July 15, 2014

With another election season upon us, it is close to certainty that we will see political candidates make major gaffes, including answering a question honestly, when political correctness would be the prudent tactic. Candidates sometimes misspeak, like in 1968 when Democratic Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey told Playboy magazine: “No sane person in the country likes […]

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Eric Cantor Is Not the First National Political Figure to Lose His Congressional Seat

June 17, 2014

No matter what else he accomplishes in life, David Brat’s obituary may well read “Giant Killer” or something to that effect. The fact that the formerly obscure Randolph-Macon College Economics Professor defeated U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in his bid for renomination to his congressional seat sent shockwaves through the body politic. The […]

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What’s in a Name? In Politics, Perhaps a Lot More Than One Might Think

May 6, 2014

The old saying goes “What’s in a name?” Actually, names can be very important in the political arena and have changed the course of American political history. In 1946, after entering a race for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, future President John F. Kennedy used a creative tactic to muster an […]

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Will the Carpetbagger Card be Effective Against Scott Brown in the New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race?

April 25, 2014

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) has packed his truck and moved full-time to his former vacation home in Rye, New Hampshire. He is running for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in November. With Brown the putative favorite for the nomination, the general election will likely be a donnybrook. This […]

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Two Potential 2016 GOP Presidential Candidates Face Re-Election Hurdles

April 25, 2014

With the U.S. Congress suffering from single-digit job approval ratings, governors are likely to be in vogue as potential presidential candidates in 2016. Two swing state governors, John Kasich from Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are believed to be seriously considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Both men are currently seeking re-election […]

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Political Insults: Cheap Shots or Do They Play an Important Role in American Politics?

April 25, 2014

U.S. House Majority Leader Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) had no problem publicly belittling Republican President and friend Gerald R. Ford. He said Ford was “worse than [Warren G.] Harding and [Herbert] Hoover put together.” Yet O’Neill and Ford had a friendly personal relationship. They often golfed together. Ford took O’Neill’s criticisms in stride, knowing that they […]

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