This week I saw a fundraising email from Obama for America which 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 I begin with that one? I'll 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 year the Democrats started running the Congress—and housing starts hit bottom in 2009. They have not recovered and remain near the bottom:
This graph comes directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although current BLS data go back only ten years, this level of employment 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% of wage earners already pay 37% of taxes and the top 10% pay 70%, 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% 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. Although it is often attributed to Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, in fact it originates with Adolf Hitler. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote:
"...in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods."
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.