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.)

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