COLORADO SPRINGS, August 5, 2012 — A fundraising email from Obama for America began with this statement:
“Maybe you’ve seen this photo going around on Facebook — one person’s reasons for supporting President Obama.
“We’ve all got our own reasons for supporting the President, and with less than 100 days to go, now’s the time to show it.”
Indeed, I had not seen the photo but no matter, it was embedded in the email. In the photo, what appear to be a man’s hands hold up a large white piece of paper or perhaps poster board with eight reasons he supports Obama handwritten in various colored markers.
It gives me the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite political pastimes: debunking the use of meaningless statistics for partisan advantage.
Many of these talking points are based on false assumptions.
Skip over or grant the assumption, and you’ve already lost the debate. Take for example number 8:
“Despite inheriting one of the worst economic messes since the Great Depression, he added 2.6 million private sector jobs to our economy, and indications are that the economy is slowly improving. To anyone who thinks it’s been too slow, don’t you know you can’t turn the Titanic around in a day?”
Where do we begin with that one? Let’s start at the end: The Titanic’s problem wasn’t that it couldn’t turn around fast enough; its problem was that it hit an iceberg. Treating the wrong cause may be why the economy isn’t improving.
Then there is the big lie: The economy is improving, just not quickly enough. The economy isn’t improving. The housing bubble started to burst in 2006, incidentally the same year the Democrats started running the Congress, and housing starts hit bottom in 2009. They have not recovered and remain near the bottom.
Overall growth is low as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, growth for the quarter just ended was 1.5 percent, less than half of the historic average of 3.3 percent. Unfortunately, those numbers are not comparable since the government keeps changing the way the numbers are reported. My go-to site for accurate numbers and analysis is Shadow Government Statistics. They do one simple thing: they report the numbers the same way they were reported in 1980. Using those measures, the economy is actually contracting, not growing.
As for the claim about jobs, our sign holder is repeating a number I’ve been hearing a lot from the Obama campaign lately. It, too, is false. It takes a couple of statistics to see the full picture. The number “2.6 million private sector jobs” is meaningless. It is a number without a reference.
The phrase “he added 2.6 million private sector jobs to our economy” is false on its face. Government cannot create jobs, especially private sector jobs. All it can do it create the conditions for job creation, and it does that by refraining from interfering with job creation. Only if you’re one of those people who think that “you didn’t create that, somebody else did” could you begin to believe it. We need to turn that phrase around to Obama and his campaign: You didn’t create those jobs, somebody else did. It was the free market.
Let’s look at the bigger economic picture. The percentage of the population engaged in the work force remains low.
Although current BLS data go back only ten years, the current level of employment relative to the size of the population is the lowest since 1980. In other words, Obama has erased all the job gains that have occurred during the longest boom in post-World War II America, including every administration from Reagan to Clinton and both Bushes. Some 2.6 million jobs may have been created since the beginning of 2009, but the net change is a big loss. Nice work, Obama!
There’s even more packed into that small paragraph, but I’d like instead to focus on my favorite, number 7:
“He thinks millionaires and billionaires should pay their fair share like the rest of us. Really, that’s a no brainer.”
Indeed. I’ve never been comfortable with the phrase “fair share” ever since the United Way began calculating my fair share contribution many years ago. The number is just so fungible. When half “of us” pay no taxes at all, is the writer saying billionaires should also pay no taxes like we do? I’m going to take a wild guess that he just got caught up in the moment and didn’t mean that at all.
Since, according to the IRS in 2009, the top 1 percent of wage earners already pay 37 percent of taxes and the top 10 percent pay 70 percent, how much more would be “fair”? The percentages certainly haven’t gone down in the intervening three years. By the way, the threshold for the top 10 percent is $112,000 in AGI, so if you’re in a two-income professional family, chances are good you’re one of those “very wealthy.”
If not outright lies, these are clear attempts to misdirect and deceive. The idea behind the Big Lie is that the bigger the lie, the less likelihood there is of disbelieving it. To paraphrase the man who came up with the idea, we ourselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to tell big lies, so we’re inclined to distrust little lies more than big lies.
So it is too often with politicians and political campaigns. Many will say anything to win and expect you to believe it. Only those with the attention span of a gnat and the intelligence of a pet rock could believe them.
Really, it’s a no brainer.
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