True or False?
Fact-Checking the Sunday Shows: January 25, 2015
Would Abraham Lincoln really oppose raising taxes on the wealthy, as Ohio Gov. John Kasich said? And has Obama really lost more than 900 state legislators since taking office?
By Lauren Carroll and Aaron Sharockman
Republicans thinking of running for president in 2016 began their tour of the news shows Sunday.
On CNN, former Sen. Rick Santorum touted his national security experience. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal discussed his religion on ABC. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee talked Common Core on NBC. And on Fox News Sunday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich quoted Abraham Lincoln in criticizing President Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund tax cuts and government programs for the middle class.
Kasich said: “You cannot build a little guy up by tearing a big guy down—Abraham Lincoln said it then, and he’s right.”
A fine quote to illustrate Kasich’s point. But it’s not actually something Lincoln said.
The true author of the quote is Rev. William J.H. Boetcker, a minister-turned-public speaker, born eight years after Lincoln was killed. In 1916, Boetcker published the list of “10 Cannots,” a collection of personal truisms largely centered around the benefits of laissez-faire capitalism. The axioms have been mistakenly attributed to Lincoln for decades.
So why do Kasich and others tie these quotes to Lincoln? It stems with Boetcker himself, according to Did Lincoln Own Slaves? And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln, a book by Gerald Prokopowicz, a Lincoln expert at East Carolina University.
In 1916, Boetcker published leaflets that had a real Lincoln quote on one side and his “cannots” on the other. A reader could easily assume these were also Lincoln quotes, and they did.
Probably the best-documented misuse of these quotes came from President Reagan at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston.
Interestingly, Lincoln’s position on taxes doesn’t even appear to line up with the quote Kasich misattributed to him.
Lincoln signed the first federal income taxes into law in 1861 in order to fund the Civil War. What’s more, these taxes were progressive—meaning that the wealthier people paid higher tax rates on their income. The highest rate, 5 percent, applied to incomes roughly equivalent to $1 million today, Prokopowicz told us.
“To the extent that signing the bill indicated his approval, Lincoln thus approved of the concept of higher taxes on the wealthy,” he said. “This is consistent with Lincoln’s politics generally.”
Kasich’s claim rates Pants on Fire.
Elsewhere, ABC’s pundit panel discussed the road ahead to 2016, as well as the political ground Democrats have lost over the past six years.
At one point Cokie Roberts dropped a headline-grabbing statistic that we thought warranted a closer look. She said that since Obama has been president, “He’s lost more than 900 state legislators.”
Have that many Democrats left the halls of state capitols across the country?
Actually, yes. Our analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows Democrats have lost 910 seats since Obama took office.
We compared the number of Democratic seats in early 2009, when Obama took office, to the number of seats after the 2014 midterms. The bottom line: Republicans now control about 56 percent of the country’s 7,383 state legislative seats, up 12 percentage points since 2009.
Thirty-five states posted double-digit seat losses for the Democrats in state legislatures, including more than 50 seats each in Arkansas, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. Democrats actually gained a few states over the course of Obama’s presidency in New Jersey (one) and Illinois (three), and the number of Democratic seats stayed the same in California.
The GOP’s national and local resurgence under the Democratic-controlled White House is not surprising, in part, because of the historical trend for two-term presidencies. Political analysts say it’s a sure thing that a political party prospers when it wins the White House but loses its influence across the country soon after.
“You have a pretty consistent pattern of surge and decline, and you can trace it throughout the two-party era in American politics,” said Larry Sabato, a political expert at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
What is surprising about losses under Obama is, with two years to go, they are worse than usual.
The shedding of U.S. House seats, state legislative seats, and statehouse control is at least twice the average two-term losses from Presidents Truman through George W. Bush, Sabato told us.
As for Roberts’s claim, it rates True.
Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.