Lying politicians are not a new phenomenon.
As Will Rogers once said, "If you ever injected truth into politics, you'd have no politics."
But America's contemporary politicians have grown all too comfortable with lying and prevaricating. It's the new normal and it's destroying what is left of the public's already tenuous trust in our government and the politicians who lead it. According to a just-released Pew study, only 19 percent of Americans say they trust government to do the right thing, down from 73 percent when the same question was asked in 1958. Meanwhile, only 22 percent believe that most elected officials put the interests of the country ahead of their own interests.
As the 2016 campaign season heats up, here are just a few of the most damning and damaging falsehoods and untruths we've been hearing from politicians on both sides.
WHAT THEY SAY: America has the best health-care system in the world.
THE REAL STORY: America does have pockets of great health care, but on key measures like longevity, preventable deaths and infant mortality, we are now well behind much of the developed world. Whatever the virtues or flaws of the Affordable Care Act, its primary purpose was to expand health-care coverage. While over 17 million additional Americans are receiving coverage thus far, America is a long way from delivering consistent care at an affordable price to all.
WHAT THEY SAY: Building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is easy and the answer to our illegal immigration problem.
THE REAL STORY: Building a wall across the full 1,954 mile U.S.-Mexico border is expensive (as much as $5 million per mile of fencing) and logistically difficult (the border features desert, rivers and mountains). Throughout history, walls have worked better to keep people in, not out. Building the wall is one thing; staffing the wall is a whole other set of costs.
WHAT THEY SAY: America's foreign aid budget is too big.
THE REAL STORY: Foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget and has for decades been a crucial tool for supporting U.S. interests and increasing our influence abroad. Foreign aid, when used as a tool of diplomacy, is usually a substitute for U.S. "boots on the ground," projecting America's power through good deeds rather than brute strength.
WHAT THEY SAY: American citizenship is open to interpretation.
THE REAL STORY: No it's not. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution (i.e. the law of the land) means what it says: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."
WHAT THEY SAY: Wages are growing.
THE REAL STORY: When accounting for the impact of inflation, U.S. median income is still about the same as it was at the turn of the century. In other words, most families have not received a raise in 15 years.
These are hardly the only lies or half-truths voters will likely reckon with in the months ahead. In fact, the biggest lie is both more pervasive and more damaging than all of these combined.
And that's the lie that America is doomed.
Make no mistake, America has plenty of problems, many of them created or made worse by Washington. But the American experiment is not in its twilight and we need not accept a future of diminished expectations. The American people are every bit as entrepreneurial, educated and hard working as we've always been. We have the most abundant energy resources in the world, and still have the greatest capacity for innovation as evidenced by the fact that America produces more patents than anyone else. We have the greatest institutions of higher knowledge, the most sought-after citizenship and the most vibrant markets. And we are the one country other countries still consistently turn to when they are in trouble.
What we need from candidates in this election is a willingness to tell us the truth about the challenges we face, a commitment to bring Democrats and Republicans together to deal with and find solutions to these challenges and an unshakeable belief that even better days are ahead for America.
As citizens, as voters and as Americans, we should accept nothing less than the truth from our politicians and from ourselves.
Commentary by Andrew Tisch, the co-chairman of Loews and a co-founder of No Labels, a national group of Democrats, Republicans and independents committed to new politics for problem-solving.