On the campaign stage, pants are on fire all over the place

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 Distortions and outright lies about the president's record are the opening volleys in the 2016 presidential race. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Distortions and outright lies about the president's record are the opening volleys in the 2016 presidential race. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Once upon a time, there was a president.

On this president’s watch, the American economy added nearly 8 million jobs.

Unemployment dropped by 2.5 percentage points, to a level below the norm for the previous 50 years.

Also on his watch, business start ups increased by 20 percent and business closings dropped 20 percent. Corporate profits soared, as did stock market indexes, while consumer prices rose more modestly than they had on average for the previous half-century.

The nation’s dependence on foreign oil hit a 40-year low. And the federal government’s annual budget deficit shrank by two-thirds from his high during the previous recession.

So far, this guy sounds like someone you’d expect to be very popular, maybe even in line to have his face carved into a mountainside. Care to guess who this economic and fiscal wizard was?

Ronald Reagan? Bill Clinton. No, a fellow named Barack Obama. A fellow whose approval rating right now stands at a thoroughly uninspiring 47 percent.

Just so you know, the statistics cited above come not from the White House press office or Rachel Maddow. They come from FactCheck.org, the Philly-based journalistic truth squad that is widely recognized as an honest broker.

Now, it’s true that anyone can use statistics selectively to shade or obscure the turf. It is also true that presidents ritually get too much credit form economic numbers when they’re good and too much blame when they’re rotten.

I could spend as many words as I just wrote above listing less-happy facts about the Obama tenure that disappoint his supporters, without even getting into all the ways he enrages his enemies.

But I bring all this up because we’re embarking on what bids to be a long, brutal, dispiriting presidential campaign, with a crowded stage of Republican aspirants. They are already vying to see who can ding Obama with the most memorable zinger.

As they mangle the facts, this motley crew is already keeping FactCheck.org frantically busy chasing down all the distortions and outright lies they are tossing about. (FactCheck goes after Democratic canards just as doggedly, but right now GOP gobbledygook is the growth business.)

I know I’m naive but I have to ask: Does political rhetoric today really have to begin with a lie?Couldn’t a candidate, for example, present a plan to boost manufacturing without first feeling obliged to lie about Obama’s not-so-terrible record on that front?

Can’t a candidate offer job growth ideas without resorting to the tired gambit of blaming Obama for economic woes that actually happened on George W. Bush’s watch, as Chris Christie did in his weakly supported claim that part-time work has exploded under Obama?

Apparently, it’s easier, more fun and a quicker path to plaudits from the cable chorus just to make stuff up.

FactCheck.org — don’t go away. We need you more than ever.

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