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Gingrich and Romney: The whole truth?

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 12:34 PM EST, Wed January 25, 2012
A GOP rally in Greenville, South Carolina, in January.
A GOP rally in Greenville, South Carolina, in January.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Romney, Gingrich spin the truth when they laud their strengths
  • She says Romney's claims about creating jobs clash with the economic truths
  • Brazile: Gingrich browbeats, belittles. Fact checkers find he speaks truth 15% of the time
  • Voters should choose Obama's hope and optimism, she says, over fear and pessimism

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is also a nationally syndicated columnist and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000 and wrote the book "Cooking with Grease."

(CNN) -- Perhaps you remember the Oscar-nominated movie "12 Angry Men." It's the story of an all-male, all-white jury meeting for a slam-dunk guilty-of-murder-one verdict against a Spanish teenager. Except for one lone juror, known only as No. 8. He quietly, persistently presents his arguments, asks questions and refuses to be diverted by emotional outbursts or personal attacks until he persuades the other jurors to examine the case logically and objectively.

The dialogue -- debate, really -- between the jurors reveals their biases and the prejudices they rely on as they rush to their predetermined but erroneous conclusion.

As the various candidates for the Republican nomination have dropped out or become non-factors, I am reminded of the reluctant admissions of the various jurors.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

In the movie, the final conflict came down to two holdouts, two jurors whose personal vendettas ran so deep that they had to hide their shortcomings until the end, unwilling to admit the fatal flaws in their reasoning.

And in the Republican race, we are essentially down to the last two jurors: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Both are deficient in what they claim are their strengths.

In Romney's case, it's the economy. Romney likes to laud his experience and success in business. He talks about the financial turnaround of Massachusetts while he was governor and the jobs he created at Bain Capital.

But the message doesn't resonate from a man who says "Corporations are people." Romney has released his tax returns. In 2010, he and his wife paid an effective federal income tax rate of 13.9%. That's the bracket for taxable income between $8,700 and $35,350. The key here is "taxable income": Work the system right, and there can be a lot of income that's not taxable.

Despite his special pleading, most people don't begrudge him his wealth or success. And most people don't fault him for the disparity between how he receives and manages his money and how most of the country struggles to make ends meet. Rather, what's beginning to bother voters -- even Republican voters -- is the disparity between his economic claims and the economic truths.

Romney claims that he "created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president's created in the entire country." Nonsense. Since June 2009, when President Obama's policies, including the stimulus, began taking effect, the Congressional Budget Office estimates (PDF), the economy has gained between 1.2 million and 2.8 million jobs. Under Romney, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation. And the jobs created were government jobs by a 6 to 1 ratio.

Romney doesn't fare much better when it comes to his claim that he created "100,000" jobs while at Bain Capital, a company that seems to have found its own tax haven. That figure comes from three companies -- Staples, the Sports Authority and Domino's -- that Romney's campaign says he "helped to start or grow." But as Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post points out, the "100,000 jobs created" is based on current employment, not when Romney worked at Bain. And it does not include job losses, either from other Bain-affiliated companies or from small, family or mid-size businesses -- Main Street -- forced by the big corporations to close their doors.

Nor does Romney mention the kind of jobs he "created": sales clerks and pizza delivery. These are not middle-class, infrastructure-improving, globally competitive type jobs. Just the opposite.

And speaking of opposite, what of the new last juror, Newt Gingrich?

He presents himself as a "speaker for the people," as the voice of righteous indignation. He is a master of the tactic of umbrage and outrage. He got a standing ovation at the South Carolina debate not because he answered John King's legitimate question about his moral values -- an "open marriage" hardly fits with any definition of the "sanctity of marriage," supposedly a conservative principle -- but because he berated, even bullied, King for asking.

He pulled a similar stunt a few days later when he was on "Meet the Press" with David Gregory. Gregory: "You were a consultant or, depending on your point of view, a lobbyist for one of the mortgage giants." Gingrich: "David, you know better than that. I was not a lobbyist. I was never a lobbyist. I never did any lobbying. Don't try to mix these things up. The fact is, I was an adviser strategically."

The Washington Post called Gingrich's denials "clearly misleading," laying out the details of Gingrich's activity. Politifact gave the claim a "half-true" rating, noting that it's "depressingly easy" for "consultants" to function as lobbyists without having to register as such.

In fact, Gingrich has substituted bullying and berating for truth-telling.

In a review of 44 recent statements by Newt Gingrich, Politifact.com rates three as true and four as mostly true. It rates nine as mostly false, nine as completely false and eight as "pants on fire" lies. Eleven are rated half-true, the same as half-false. In other words, he makes false claims 59% of the time. And another 25% of the time, he's telling half-truths. He browbeats, belittles and speaks the truth 15% of the time.

Which brings us to the voters. Regardless of who wins the Republican nomination, President Obama has the chance to be juror No. 8, to persuade voters to choose hope and optimism over fear and pessimism.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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