Welcome to the 'get the facts straight' election

'Facts' have been very contentious in this presidential election. Just ask Hillary Clinton. 

Seth Wenig/AP
Sen. Bernie Sanders listens as Hillary Clinton speaks during a Democratic presidential debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard April 14 in New York.

“Get the facts straight”: A polite political rebuttal to an opponent that translates as, “I’m the one telling the truth here.”

The late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) is fondly remembered for the aphorism that people are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. (Some contend that line actually originated decades earlier with financier and philanthropist Bernard Baruch.) But in the current ultrapartisan political season, accepted truth – the facts – can be hotly disputed.

As the Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has grown increasingly contentious, Mrs. Clinton has turned to “get the facts straight.” At last week’s debate in New York, Senator Sanders of Vermont repeated his familiar attack that the former senator and secretary of State has been too cozy with the financial industry.

“It may be inconvenient, but it's always important to get the facts straight,” Clinton responded. “I stood up against the behaviors of the banks when I was a senator. I called them out on their mortgage behavior. I also was very willing to speak out against some of the special privileges they had under the tax code.”

At a March debate in Flint, Mich., Sanders went after Clinton on a number of topics from her husband’s tenure in the White House, including a controversial crime bill and welfare reform. “Well, once again, if we’re going to argue about the ’90s, let’s try to get the facts straight,” Clinton said, citing efforts to lift African-Americans’ income and improve the environment.

Clinton’s campaign also has invoked “get the facts” on a recent critique of a Sanders ad in which he accused her of not being sufficiently supportive of workers seeking a hike in the minimum wage.

The phrase has come up in other contexts. At a February Republican debate shortly after Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) said justices have not been confirmed during election years for the past 80 years. That led debate moderator John Dickerson of CBS News to point out that Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, several months after President Ronald Reagan nominated him in November 1987.

“I just want to get the facts straight for the audience – I apologize,” Mr. Dickerson said. The apology didn’t mollify the partisan crowd; it responded with boos. 

Chuck McCutcheon writes his “Speaking Politics” blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

Interested in decoding what candidates are saying? “Doubletalk: The Language, Code, and Jargon of a Presidential Election,” by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark is now out.

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