"If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood. And that's well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does." — Sen. Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, April 8, 2011
"[The statistic Mr. Kyl used] was not intended to be a factual statement ..." — Statement from Mr. Kyl's office to CNN, later that day
Actually, about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services are abortion-related. The overwhelming majority of the organization's work involves cancer screenings, contraception and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Granted, the 3 percent figure is self-reported, and PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website, suggests it could nudge higher depending on how you crunch the numbers. But it also rules that Mr. Kyl "vastly overstated" the organization's involvement in abortions. In other words, he lied.
Conservatives seem to do that an awful lot.
No, the capacity for mendacity is not exclusive to any party or ideology. Yes, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid have all, at one point or another, been at variance with the truth. But when it comes to serial lying, to the biggest, most brazen, most audacious lies, the lies repeated ad nauseam until people mistake them for truth, when it comes to the most absolute contempt for the facts and for the necessity of honest debate, it's not even close. Conservatives have no equal.
Consider: PolitiFact has six categories for judging veracity. A statement is true, mostly true, half true, barely true, false, or "Pants On Fire," after the old schoolyard taunt that begins "Liar! Liar!" PolitiFact uses this designation for statements that are not only untrue but also make some "ridiculous claim."
I reviewed 100 such statements on PolitiFact's website. By my count, of the 70 that originated with an identifiable individual or group (as opposed to a chain email or miscellaneous source), 61 were from the political right. That includes Rush Limbaugh saying President Obama is going to take away your right to fish, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer saying beheaded bodies are being found in the desert and Sarah Palin claiming death panels will stalk the elderly — 90 percent of the most audacious lies coming from conservatives.
And that word is used advisedly here. There is little that is truly conservative about what we are seeing.
No, this is extremism, true believers so rigidly committed to their ideological crusades that they feel justified in vandalizing reason and sacrificing integrity in furtherance of their cause. The end justifies any means. So, as was the case with Jon Kyl, if you can't prove your point with the facts at hand, make up some facts and prove it with those.
It says much about the intellectual state of what passes for conservatism and the intellectual state of the union itself that this sort of behavior has become business as usual, just another day in the Zeitgeist.
This cannot end well. To continue down this path is to carve out a future of intellectual incoherence and international irrelevance, to doom ourselves to yet more of a fractured political discourse that is loud, ignorant and incapable of reason, much less resolution.
And maybe Senator Kyl's claim was "not intended to be a factual statement," but just so you know? Mine is.
Leonard Pitts' column appears regularly. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.