Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First 100 Days of Factchecking

The whole article is worth a read, but here's the summary:

After 100 days in office, we find President Obama is sticking to the facts – mostly.

Nevertheless, we find that the president has occasionally made claims that put him and his policies in a better light than the facts warrant. He has claimed that private economists agreed with the forecast in his budget, when they were really more pessimistic. He's used Bush-like budget-speak trying to sound frugal while raising spending to previously unimagined levels. And he has exaggerated the problems his proposals aim to cure by misstating facts about school drop-out rates and oil imports.

At the same time, there's been no shortage of dubious claims made about the president by his political opponents. Republicans have falsely claimed that Obama planned to spend billions on a levitating train and that his stimulus bill would require doctors to follow government orders on what medical treatments can and can't be prescribed, among other nonsense.

And those whoppers are mild compared with some of the positively deranged claims flying about the Internet. No, the national service bill Obama signed won't prevent anybody from going to church, for example. And no, he's not trying to send Social Security checks to illegal immigrants.

Sadly, there's not much new to say here. Both parties and their leadership continue to mislead their supporters on everything from major policy issues to making mountains out of molehills for the devout to gobble up. The internet continues to serve as the disinformation highway for that and far more baffling accusations and conspiracy theories.

Factcheck's election reflection article summed up the big part of the problem: the voters themselves...

And voters, once deceived, tend to stay that way despite all evidence. Nearly half in our poll (46 percent) agreed that Saddam Hussein played a role in the attacks of September 11, even though no solid evidence has ever emerged to support this notion.

None of this bodes well for the future, in our view. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns that systematically disinform the public can only make the task of governing harder for the eventual winner. But are we discouraged that our efforts didn’t prevent this? Not at all. If we hadn’t tried, it might have been worse.

That article is also worth the read if you missed it before. It notes the disinformation misled vast numbers of voters from both sides... from those who honestly believed that McCain was going to steal their social security checks to all sorts of exaggerations on Obama's proposals as well. Prior elections faced similar disinformation campaigns, from Kerry's dubious claim that Bush would double health care costs for vets (based on a proposal for medication co-pays to go up a few bucks), to the VA budget being "slashed" when it just hadn't increased as much as other bills (though still increased considerably)... to the anti-Kerry accusations that created a new term in dirty politics: "swift boating."

And such disinformation continues on past the elections as we've witnessed in these first 100 days. If you talk to a Democratic activist you'd be likely to hear about something called Glass-Steagall and how it's repeal was to blame for our current situation and it is all the Republican's fault for pushing that repeal. If you ask a Republican activist they'll point to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their ties to the Democratic party to push sub-prime loans as some sort of pro-minority agenda that backfired. They'll even point you to youtube videos where Republicans were called racist for trying to stop what they warned would cause a major economic problem in the future.

So who is really to blame? Both of them. Good luck convincing many of them to abandon the "common knowledge" at this point though.

Republicans and Democrats supported the repeal of that Glass-Steagall regulation and was signed into law by Bill Clinton. And while Fannie and Freddie were frequent targets of Republican complaints, their role was complimentary to the problem, not the driving force. For all the doomsday rhetoric one can find on youtube, neither party went beyond the grandstanding in committees to actually push for more regulation on either front. While the GOP held congressional power there was no actual push to end the Fannie/Freddie issues... and when the DNC took control there was no actual push to reinstitute the Glass-Steagall regulations.

From the looks of things both sides didn't realize how screwed we were until after the fact... neither party ran on these issues or made more of a blip on the radar complaining about them until the housing bubble burst and the massive ramifications came to fore. It was then that diligent party activists started digging to find a way to blame it on the other guys. And they found just enough for their fellow supporters to buy it.

Some would like to believe that if Kerry had won in 2004 this would have never happened though. On an issue he didn't run on, nor has he ever championed since returning to the Senate... but sure has an opinion on now after the fact.

But on other eerie reminder fronts, Iraq also comes to mind. Like Obama, Kerry's rhetoric shifted from the primary campaign to the general campaign to sound more pragmatic on the Iraq issue. By the time of the town hall debate later in the general election season he rattled off his plan for Iraq and elicited this infamous line from his opponent:

My opponent says he has a plan; it sounds familiar, because it's called the Bush plan.

Now it's impossible to say with certainty how much different Kerry would have actually acted in the Oval Office. His history on Iraq policy ignited a "flip flop" craze of sorts... justified by him over being "misled" on Iraq claims he had himself championed in the years before Bush was in office. With Obama however, we had a candidate with a far more clear cut anti-war position on Iraq. And this is the result the American people got:

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Mess O'Potamia - The Iraq War Is Over
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Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days


That SOFA agreement? Also known as Bush's "time horizon."

Just don't tell the activists. They might not take it well.

The more things change...

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