Thursday, August 30, 2012

Accidental lies. "It's effectively the same thing."

The campaign of 2012 has more lies and accusations of lying that the usual campaign. This fits oddly with the newly widespread presence of journalists and other groups who are marking and complaining about lies. Part of the problem is that the fact-checkers themselves are not beyond error.

Part of the problem is the Rove-reversal that is now a (GOP) standard technique, that whatever you are accused of, you accuse your accuser, regardless of how silly it may seem. Karl Rove doesn't like to see any potent material go unanswered, and if his GOP advisees can't answer directly, then they can (at worst) confuse the most casual and ignorant viewers by laying the same claim against the other side.
- I have seen Sarah Palin say (a) that the Democrats need to be more careful in vetting VP candidates; and (b) in another news-bite, that Democrats, unlike Republicans, were prone to say nasty things about their opponents. This post is written with the idea that people can learn to distinguish some of the prominent lies on their own.

Lie (1). Paul Ryan's early plan on Medicare. Interpretations of it did not jell until the Congressional Budget Office reported that it was effectively the same thing as a voucher system. Democrats had been trying various assessments, but that one was sufficiently concise and negative that they could go with it. Plus, it came from a source that is not partisan. Republicans disliked what the Democrats liked, but the media universally decided that the judgment was sound enough. So we could call it a voucher system. And by easy extension, it would be the end of Medicare as we have known it.

However, the immediate advertising by some Democrats went a bit further, to say that "Republicans have voted to end Medicare" without tacking on, "as we have known it." Since the vote was explicitly to replace Medicare, not to end it, the assertion, "end it," was not literally true. Moreover, Republicans protested this abuse. is perhaps the biggest name among the fact-checking sources. After reporting on 9 versions of that claim recorded over several months, they ended up pronouncing that particular Lie as their “2011 Lie of the Year.” That choice was, in its turn, protested by some Democrats. They argued (and still do) that it was "effectively the same thing." Well, sometimes a Truth does not have to have the literal fact behind it, but by my standards, you can't persist with the claim – in a fair debate or discussion – when the opponents can point to the literal inaccuracy, and claim that it matters. Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, whom I usually agree with, was wrong in protesting this particular verdict from She did use the wording that what Ryan's plan does "is really the same thing" and treated that as sufficient.

Lie (2). Before the 2010 elections, Republicans all across the country ran for the U.S. House and Senate on the claim that "Obamacare represents a government take-over of medical care." This was easily assessed as a lie by everyone who cared; and it eventually was named by as their 2010 "Lie of the Year." I am not sure that the language started out as an intentional lie, but it did end up that way.

The same thing.” A copy of Britain's National Health Service would be a clear take-over of of health care and would be “the same thing.” In the NHS, the government does run the hospitals and pay the doctors. - I don't think that sort of reform lasted past the Democrat's first cocktail party discussion of what might be done.

Almost the same thing.” Another prospect that is still bandied about is Single Payer, which would replace all insurance companies. Especially if you already deem that the insurance companies have taken over health care in the US (except for the 50 million people without insurance), a Single Payer system might be called a national take-over of the health system. For a long time in the months while health reform percolated in Congress, it was not clear that Single Payer would not be proposed. People who are more literal-minded (or, I don't know, maybe they have discussed these things more than I have, and they are more particular) might object to labeling Single Payer as a national take-over. Personally, I would still consider that fair. Many, many millions of advertising dollars were spent in protesting the developing program before it became clear that Single Player was never going to be written down and proposed as an alternative.

Not the same thing.” As far as I can judge, and what seems to be the judgment of everyone rating lies, we don't have a "national take-over of health-care" so long as the insurance companies are in place. However, I can describe one part of the process that helped it take root. As Obamacare took shape, there was the necessary creation of coverage for the un-insurable. In early planning, the potential existed that the federal government would be the insurer-of-last resort. In a real sense, it might provide competition to existing companies. I know that I heard at least one ad which asserted, not entirely unfairly, that this federal role could be a wedge that led the government to take over all insurance if companies failed to compete.

In response to that sort of criticism from Republicans, that last-resort-insurer was re-designed so that the states would have the primary role in providing that extra insurance; and there would be heavy subsidies to push the states into doing so, instead of letting the care default to a federal organization. That extra layer of protection was included in the law.

In the end, Obamacare was modeled after the Republican plan from 1995, pretty much as implemented by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2005, drawing on advice from Romney's experts; and as modified by GOP criticism in Congress. So it is pretty thoroughly a Republican plan, despite the Republican refusal to vote for it.
- However, what happened to the debate, as I see it, is that Republicans found from experience how potent the "national take-over" phrase was. Did anybody ever feel that Romney-care is "essentially the same thing" as a state takeover of the health system in Massachusetts? Of course not.

What we do see is that Republicans kept on using the line, regardless of its status as a thoroughly demonstrated misrepresentation. They did not suffer for it, except for a loss of reputation and honor (for those who care). I don't know how big a part this played in the GOP successes in 2010, but I know that it was a big feature in the ads by Toomey, here in Pennsylvania. 

Lie (3). That Republican-owned 2010 Lie of the Year is still current. I don't know if Fox News still helps its promotion, but another politician echoed it again today. I have drawn a conclusion from this example and several others – to Republicans these days, Winning is more important than being fair or honest.

By contrast, Democrats rather quickly and pretty thoroughly (from what I've seen) retired the 2011 Lie of the Year, "end of Medicare." They are not always accurate in all other details, but the overall assertion, these days, is almost always "the end of Medicare as we know it"; or, "replace Medicare with a voucher system." If you read the discussion, you may note that they did not approve very much of the revised statements, either, but that was for reasons less clear.

My conclusion is that I this is one of the important sources of disagreement, which starts out as legitimate. The response is not legitimate when the opponent re-asserts the lie. (This is a habit, this year, of the GOP... and not so much the Democrats.)

Teaparty components

There are a number of political strands that make up the Teaparty. If you ask them, what they share is a distaste for "too much government” but they don't have to agree on all the details. I figure them as making up a sort of conspiracy of outsiders, each group of whom previously held less respect and authority in the Republican Party than they thought they deserved. That is why they are often described as "angry"-- it is directed at other Republicans. They are mad at what seemed like getting lip-service and not enough laws. Later on, I will get into more about what they have received. I think that the Party did give them more actual concessions than they yet recognize – There are at least 3 Justices of the Supreme Court who were chosen from the furthest fringe that could win confirmation; unconfirmed nominee Bork was beyond the fringe.

The largest man-in-the-street component of the Teaparty comprises fundamentalist Christians. Their first issues are abortion and Creationism, which readily expand to include opposition to birth control and hostility to public schools. They don't care fervently about corporate taxes, income taxes, estate taxes. They don't care fervently about regulation of corporations, whether for air pollution or Wall Street speculation. They sometimes care about homosexuals, though many may recognize that as a lost issue by today. They sometimes pledge almost as much faith in their readings of the Constitution as their readings of the Bible.

The big-money component of the Teaparty is dominated by a small number of billionaires. That contrasts to the old-line GOP alignment with Chamber of Commerce major industrial lobby groups … thus reducing the influence of reason and argument. The biggest influences on policy up to now are reputedly the Koch brothers (gas and oil) and Rupert Murdoch (Wall Street Journal, Fox tv networks). Murdoch promoted the development of the Teaparty on his stations; his agenda seems to be taxes but he was not pleased with candidate Romney. Though they down-talk the connections, the Koch brothers are said to have provided seed money in small amounts to each of thousands of local groups, thus winning an early and persistent allegiance. The Koches are concerned especially with preserving profits for their industry – low taxes; and getting rid of regulations relevant to oil, gas, and chemical exploitation. I don't know that they care at all about the principle issues of the fundamentalists.

 The closest thing to an intellectual side of the Teaparty is probably the anarchist, nihilistic politicians that make up Libertarianism (Ron Paul) and Objectivism. Paul Ryan, VP candidate, has lately disowned Objectivism and its founder, Ayn Rand. She was a Russian emigre who was firmly atheistic and pro-abortion, in addition to adoring hero-led-capitalism. I will say a little more about each of these.

Libertarians in 1980 celebrated with the slogan, "Taxation is theft." That slogan was invented about the same time that the Libertarian Party was formed, 1972. This was not an ironic reflection of Proudhon's 1840 anarchist/ socialist slogan, "Property is theft." I sometimes do like to muse on the latter, but what I find more useful is a pertinent quotation from Justice Holmes, 1908, "Taxes are the price that we pay for civilization." I wondered about Libertarianism back in the 1970s; I concluded that it was impossible to accept its weakness in preserving rights and justice, because it depended on individuals suing in courts. But in the sarcastic sentiment of Anatole France, "Sure, the law is even-handed. It prohibits both rich men and poor men from sleeping under bridges and begging in the street." I don't know if Libertarians dropped their recipe for preserving rights because it was too unlikely, or if they buried that argument as a price for peace with the George W. Bush's platform goal of "tort reform".

On Objectivism – Alan Freedman was once an acolyte of Rand's. Finally as leader of the Federal Reserve, he preached Free Markets to a wide audience, for decades. I wished that the media had made more of it when he announced (more or less) that the 2008 market crash had cured him of 40 years of error, in imagining that "free markets" could do no evil. He now recognizes that regulation is, indeed, necessary. His apostasy should have been bigger news. On other issues: Libertarians have been traditionally in favor of abortion and no rules on sex, including homosexual behavior – I thought – but this year's campaigner Ron Paul took relevant stands compliant with the Teaparty fundamentalists.

 Libertarians and Objectivists seem united in opposing active roles of government in almost anything except Defense.

There are other smaller strands of the Teaparty. I will mention just one more, the National Rifle Association. This group, as a group, does not seem to speak on other issues besides the wide distribution of guns and ammunition, but they pioneered the narrow-focus intimidation of politicians, especially in GOP primaries, that is coming to define the whole party.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Something less stupid.  from August 8, 2012.

Start with observations on the Teaparty.

If you are an old-line Republican, you probably ought to start thinking about voting against 
the new style of Teaparty Republicans.  If you haven't started thinking that way already.

Why?  Because your politics are now a better match for Democrats than to Teaparty.  If 
you are used to your vote being reflected by a mild synthesis of similar opinions ... Well, 
that is not what you get with Teaparty.  A Teaparty vote is newly represented in Congress 
by promises of uncompromising devotion to the most extreme version of whatever policy is 
under consideration. 

You may feel some sympathy for some of the issues promoted by the Teaparty, but a large 
fractions of Republicans, I think, do not feel the same revulsion as dedicated Teaparty-ers 
feel, towards the old Republican Party.  A prominent feature of Teaparty politicians is their 
anger towards politicians of both parties... So far, they have been turning out of office more 
Republican incumbents then Democratic ones, via votes in Primaries.  Some pundits have 
excused Republican unity in Washington as an adoption of a "parliamentary model."  That 
may be so, but I have noticed that the unanimous GOP votes arise on Teaparty issues, and 
Boehner already has great trouble in rustling together votes for conventional issues when the 
Teaparty activists can find even a hint of a reason to oppose. 

First, even when they have gotten their way over the last 30 years (mainly, 3 1/2 Supreme 
Court Justices), members of the fundamentalist core of the Teaparty have felt patronized and 
rejected.  I think this is part of what leaves them with their present no-compromise politics: 
It is not originally a bargaining position, but an emotional statement.  Second, in the more 
recent history -- to the extent that the Teaparty is a collaboration or conspiracy of several 
outsider groups, the strength of the collaboration lies in the mutual pledge to adhere to 
whatever full, exact policy is proposed by another strand.  That, in turn, has led quickly to 
the degeneration of debatable policy proposals to the most extreme fantasies arising within 
each strand.  See "Vaginal ultra-sound" and "Personhood Amendment" and "No tax increases, 
ever" as examples.

What Policies?

Do you oppose modern science?  That covers several of the evils of the Teaparty ... starting 
with, “Creationism (and replacing science in the schools with it)” ... going on to, "gay-ness is 
an evil choice, and not a natural biological phenomenon" ... going on to, "scientists are just 
lying about climate change" ... going on to, theories of economics that are wishful thinking. 

Do you oppose the Natural Rights recognized in the industrialized states over the last 200 
years?  -- Teaparty-ers do not directly *oppose* them....  But the majority of these rights, 
which make up the modern social contract, consist of "freedom from evils of industry and 
industrialization"; and are guaranteed by Government.  Yes, government.  It is not, “More 
government means less rights”, but rather, “Much of modern government is designed to 
protect us against modern ills, and thus, More government of this kind  is essential for more 
rights.”  This was recognized a century ago in1908 by Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes: "Taxes
 are the price we pay for civilization."  Yes.  

This is the social contract that evolved, in place of the class warfare predicted by Marx, or 
the population collapse predicted even earlier by Malthus.  By today, the rights include clean 
air, clean water, free education, safe food, and security in the markets from various forms of 

Oh, consider what we, as a nation, provide to either our poorer allies, or even our defeated 
foes – something like what the Peace Corps long has provided to poorer countries, including 
(even) a free access to some levels of health care.  That is a modern right which the US fulfills 
less completely than any other advanced country.  

Teaparty-ers directly oppose spending any money or government effort for things like ... clean 
air and clean water (EPA); safe work environments (mines, and otherwise) (OSHA, NRLB); 
safe food (FDA); health care (Obamacare).  Of course (again), they don't hate good health 
and safety... but for now, it is enough to re-iterate that they are committed to slashing those 
budgets, and committing to no-compromise. 

How Did the Teaparty take over the GOP?
  - topic for another day.