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How do we keep candidates from lying over and over?

Why doesn't the fact-checking come first?

After a presidential debate, even before the debate has ended, we're able now to read fact-checks from Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact and many news organizations.

But shouldn't the candidates get their facts straight and tell the truth in the first place?

"American politics has become a battle of talking points," said Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact and Washington bureau chief for The Tampa Bay Times. "Once candidates find a talking point they like, they often stick with it — even when fact-checkers say it's wrong."

Perhaps the first questions in the next presidential debate should be something along these lines...

For Newt Gingrich:

Former Speaker Gingrich, in debate after debate, you've taken credit for balancing four federal budgets when you were the speaker of the House. As has been pointed out repeatedly by fact-checking organizations, the four years of balanced budgets were fiscal 1998 through 2001, but you were in office for only the first two of those budgets. You left the House in January 1999 and had no role in crafting the budgets for the subsequent two years. In addition, you opposed the two tax-raising deals that were largely responsible for balancing the budget. (Fact-checks here from The New York Times and here from The Washington Post.)

Similarly, you said that people can use food stamps "to go to Hawaii," claimed that the ethics charges against you were conducted by "a very partisan political committee," and said that "no federal official at any level is allowed to say 'Merry Christmas.'" 

All these statements were false, according to PolitiFact.

PolitiFact scorecard on Gingrich

Equal-time: Questions for the other candidates are below 

It's been nearly five years since PolitiFact and a host of similar services started debunking the most outrageous statements. In that time, have the candidates become more honest?

"Not overall, but we've seen glimpses that they will alter their wording after we've called out a falsehood," Adair said. "For example, the way Newt said the balanced budget line in the last debate was more accurate, because he didn't say the four consecutive years were when he was speaker. So maybe he responded to the fact-checking."

Here are specific follow-up questions for each of the current Republican candidates, as well as President Barack Obama, based on fact-checking by PolitiFact and the major newspapers:

For Mitt Romney:
Former Governor Romney, in every debate so far, you've said something like, "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were a big part of why we have the housing crisis." But studies have shown that Fannie and Freddie were late to invest in subprime mortgages, following the lead of Wall Street firms that you never mention. (Fact-check from The New York Times here and here.) The unspoken narrative in your comments, and those of the other candidates, panders inaccurately to those who want to believe that loans to unworthy minorities, driven by the Community Reinvestment Act, caused the financial crisis. In fact, most subprime loans were made by lenders who were not covered by the CRA, but who were driven by the need for profits to satisfy their Wall Street investors. Are you trying to deflect blame from Wall Street?

Similarly, you have said repeatedly that President Obama "went around the world and apologized for America," said "I don't have lobbyists running my campaign," and claimed that President Obama's health care law "represents a government takeover of health care."

All false, according to PolitiFact.

PolitiFact scorecard for Romney.

For Rick Santorum:
Former Senator Santorum, you have repeatedly criticized Gov. Romney's health insurance program in Massachusetts for the so-called individual mandate, for requiring individuals to buy health insurance. Why not mention that in 1994, when you were running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, you supported an individual mandate.

Similarly, you said that an Obama administration policy prohibits people who work with at-risk youth from promoting marriage as a way to avoid poverty, claimed that "a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion," and said, "Any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed." 

All false, according to PolitiFact.

PolitiFact scorecard for Santorum.

For Ron Paul:
Representative Paul, you've said that the United States "is bankrupt." The country isn't unable to pay its debts, nor is it impoverished. The credit rating of the United States is AA+ at Standard & Poor's (one step below the top of a 20-step scale), and AAA at the other rating agencies.

Similarly, you claimed that only a few sentences in your racist and conspiratorial newsletters were inflammatory, that the majority of the American people believe we should go back on the gold standard and that you never vote for legislation unless it's specifically authorized in the Constitution.

All false, according to PolitiFact.

PolitiFact scorecard for Paul.

And in the general election, maybe the first question to the incumbent could start something like this:

For Barack Obama:
President Obama, you've said that most of the money for your campaign came from small donors, that you've excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs, that you haven't raised taxes once.

All false, according to PolitiFact.

You've claimed that your opponents plan to cut funding for Israel to zero. PolitiFact rated that claim "Pants on Fire," its lowest rating.

"One theme we've seen in Obama's statements," says PolitiFact's Bill Adair, "is that he is exaggerating how he has fulfilled promises. We know this, of course, because we keep track of all 500+ promises on our Obameter."

PolitiFact scorecard for Obama and Obameter keeping track of his campaign policies

Should the candidates be asked: As you prepare for a debate, is part of your preparation to remind yourself, whatever I say, I should play it straight with the American people? Aren't you embarrassed to repeat statements that any 8th-grader could look up in 20 seconds and discover have been proven untrue? Or do you calculate that it's acceptable to twist the facts to win an election?

´╗┐Readers, what do you think? What would make the candidates stick to the facts? Add your comments below.