Is the statement significant? We avoid minor "gotchas"’ on claims that obviously represent a slip of the tongue.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter
|(clipped from PolitiFact.com)|
The fact checkers:
Willoughby Mariano: writer, researcher
Jim Denery: editor
Jim Tharpe: editor
I've heard Herman Cain speak on occasion over the years, as he often serves as a guest host on the Neal Boortz radio program. On the radio, I've heard him incorrectly state on at least one occasion that passages in the Declaration of Independence occur in the Constitution. Now PolitiFact claims he did the same thing during his announcement speech for his presidential run. Is Cain confused?
"We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States," Cain said. "We need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution."That last line is pretty funny. The PolitiFact Georgia team did not immediately realize that "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" does not occur in the Constitution? That certainly inspires confidence. Though perhaps it was meant as a snarky way of pretending to assume that Cain must know what he's talking about. Either way, it reflects poorly on PolitiFact Georgia.
"And I know that there’s some people that are not going to do that. So, for the benefit for those that are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
"You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believe in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, don’t stop right there, keep reading.
"’Cause that’s when it says that when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do."
Cain’s exhortation sent your PolitiFact Georgia team scrambling for a closer look at the U.S. Constitution.
Getting past that, it's clear that the line isn't in the Constitution. So what does it mean? Is it a significant statement? Does Cain believe the line is in the Constitution or did he misspeak?
Constitutional history scholar and University of Pennsylvania professor Richard R. Beeman came to our assistance via email. That phrase is in the second paragraph of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, which was written in 1776, 11 years before the Constitution was drafted during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.Snark from PolitiFact's expert source? Say it isn't so. Did Beeman assume that Cain did not simply misspeak?
Beeman agreed with Cain that we don’t need to rewrite the Constitution and it’s more important that Americans read it.
"It might be a good thing if Mr. Cain would undertake that task," Beeman said.
We asked Cain’s campaign to respond. A spokeswoman said he sometimes mentions the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at the same time.I'd like to see the whole of that response. The bit above falls short of saying Cain misspoke. But it accurately states what Cain was doing during his speech. The quotation from PolitiFact left out part of the relevant context (transcript mine):
"Quite often, he references them together when speaking of his appreciation for the work of our Founders," she said.
You know, the founding fathers did their job. And they did a great job at it. And they kept it simple.In context, Cain was talking about both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. So does that mean that he knew the two clauses he apparently attributed to the Constitution were actually in the Declaration of Independence? Not necessarily, but there's a pretty easy way to figure that out. Not that PolitiFact shows any interest in following that proper course:
They wrote the Declaration of Independence. They designed and wrote the Constitution of the United States of America. And one of the other things that's part of our vision, is that we don't need to rewrite the Declaration. We don't need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States--rewrite it, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. We don't need to rewrite, let's reread.
And I know that there are some people who are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those that are not going to read it because they don't want us to go by the Constitution, there's a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believed in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness don't stop there, keep reading. Because that's when it says when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.
We've got some altering and some abolishing to do.
(C)onfusing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is no small mistake, especially for a candidate for president, said Donald E. Wilkes Jr., a University of Georgia law professor.Though I'm not a University of Georgia law professor, I'm going to partly contradict professor Wilkes. Confusing the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution is a small mistake when one merely misspeaks yet well knows the difference. Though certainly the minor error may be magnified by irresponsible reporting in the media as well as by comments from intellectual elites who have ignored the broader context.
The Declaration is a statement of beliefs. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
"No court makes a legal decision based on the Declaration of Independence," Wilkes said.
PolitiFact rules Cain "False."
As noted via epigraph, the Truth-O-Meter, according to principle, does not rate obvious slips of the tongue. That's why then-candidate for president Barack Obama was not rated from his statement about campaigning in all 57 states. It is not reasonable to believe that Obama thinks there are more than 50 states.
Likewise, it is not reasonable to believe that Herman Cain thinks "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" occurs in the Constitution.
Because Cain talks about the founding documents frequently. He has correctly attributed those statements frequently over time, and it's easily verified.
Iowa (go to 3:24):
Cain talking about the Declaration of Independence at a high school:
Given the broader context, totally ignored by PolitiFact, it is plain that Cain committed a minor error of misstatement. He knows the source of the words as well as Obama knows the number of states.
If PolitiFact did not bend its principles then the supposed principles are so ambiguous as to be effectively meaningless.
Willoughby Mariano: F
Jim Denery: F
Jim Tharpe: F
Cain's from the Atlanta area, so Mariano, Denery and Tharpe (all of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have added reason to know Cain knows the origin of the words he referenced.
This was a minor "gotcha" on a minor slip of the tongue from Cain. PolitiFact's principles ought to have prevented this fact check.