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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair October 30, 2012

It's been a scary campaign!

We've heard accusations that Republicans want to end Medicare and that Barack Obama is a socialist who’s coming to take away our guns.

Those claims haven't fared well on the Truth-O-Meter, but there's a reason those scare tactics have long been a staple in American politics: They can be effective -- particularly with senior citizens.

For years, Democrats have had success with "Medi-scare" tactics -- claiming that Republicans are going to cut or eliminate Medicare. It's been so successful that in 2010, Republicans started saying Democrats were doing the same thing -- cutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare, claims we rated Half True or Mostly False.

Another famous scare tactic: suggestions that you're going to get nuked if you vote for the other guy. The most famous one is the "daisy" ad from Lyndon Johnson in 1964, which featured a girl plucking daisy petals until a mushroom cloud fills the screen.

Here are some of the scare tactics we've seen in this year's campaign:

Medi-scare, 2012 Edition -- Both Democrats and Republicans have made claims that the other party is ending Medicare. When Democratic groups made that claim about Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan in 2011, we chose it as our Lie of the Year. Many Democrats have backed off from using the line, instead saying Ryan would end "the guarantee of Medicare," a claim we've rated Half True. But some Democrats, including the opponent for his House seat, Rob Zerban, continued to claim Ryan would end Medicare. PolitiFact Wisconsin rated that Pants on Fire.

Republicans such as Mitt Romney also used a similar line in an attack against Barack Obama, claiming he would "end Medicare as we know it." That, too, earned a Pants on Fire.

Another scary Medicare claim came from Pat Boone, the 50s-era singer: that the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a new cost-cutting panel under Obamacare, "can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending."

But we found the IPAB doesn't have that power. Another Pants on Fire!

The red menace -- In the modern-day equivalent of "the Russians are coming!", some Republicans have claimed that Barack Obama is a socialist. It came from Republicans at all levels, most notably the governor of Texas, Rick Perry. We examined Obama's policies and compared them with the dictionary definition of socialism and found it was a ridiculous falsehood to characterize them that way. Pants on Fire!

Similar claims by a U.S. House candidate in Texas, and a Wisconsin U.S. Senate candidate also earned Pants on Fire ratings.

The fact-check on the Texas House candidate prompted one of our favorite letters to the editor, which read: "Dear Comrade ... You performed exactly as we instructed. Word for word you covered (we hope) Barack's 'behind' and threw the Amerikanski off track. Keep going and we will fool 'em again. Signed: 'The Communist Party.' "

Hide your guns! -- The National Rifle Association played on fears that Obama is going to seize our guns with a mailer headlined "10 reasons why Obama is bad news for the Second Amendment." No. 10 was, "Obama admits he’s coming for our guns, telling Sarah Brady, ‘We are working on (gun control), but under the radar.’"

We found no evidence of an Obama admission anything like the NRA suggests. The gun group took a fragment of an unclear quote and prescribed the most far-reaching, conspiratorial conclusion. Pants on Fire!

Firing Big Bird? -- If you're a 4-year-old, perhaps nothing is scarier than the idea that Big Bird might be in jeopardy. That was the tactic of the Obama campaign, which claimed that Mitt Romney plans to fire the Sesame Street character.

But the truth is that Romney doesn't want to give Big Bird a pink slip. He simply wants to end the federal subsidy for PBS. That shouldn't affect the 8-foot-2 bird's employment status because his actual employer, the Sesame Workshop, gets less than 5 percent of its revenue from federal money. Another Pants on Fire!

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