In The News
Need facts in political debates? Help is here
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
There’s nothing more disconcerting or angering than someone who confidently spouts a piece of data that seems to destroy your view of an issue – and then sits back defying you to contradict them. As if you could know instantly if their data is correct. As if there were an encyclopedia you could leaf through on the spot to refute the viewpoint.
I’ve seen professional campaign workers for John McCain and Barack Obama stumble when thrown up against such random facts by a know-it-all not willing to listen to opposition reasoning. We’ve all heard talk radio that lives on such techniques – and cuts off any intelligent dispute.
The Internet is alive with thinly disguised hate messages that string together unrelated “facts,” make historical judgements over half-truths and use random pieces of data to offer a convincing yet false case.
Many of us are unthinkingly guilty of such behavior. Recently I dropped a little aside during a dinner conversation – that while the US imports some 66% of its oil, less than 12% of our imports comes from Persian Gulf states. Other guests were agitated beyond belief. How can that be? 12%! Given our cost in blood and treasure? Surely I’m nuts? (Well, that’s a different issue.)
No, my figures are right. Most people don’t know that Canada and Mexico are our largest importers and that many other nations are involved. But it’s a body blow if you have framed oil as the center of Mideast policy. Our ignorance about oil is one more item in a complex series of attitudes and events that foolishly led this administration to war in the first place. 12% alone is not enough to explain all that. It just lights up the argument about how the public has been misled for years.
So who do we trust?
Our confusion mounts given the complexities of all the issues facing us and a new president. We are so deep in the hole that no one can easily pull us out and we do have to think our way out. Our tendency to accept information out of context, to not investigate, mainly hurts candidates who engage in nuances rather than emotional extreme sound-bites.
To me the thinker is Obama and the emotional overreach is McCain, but saying that is not enough to demonstrate that.
Citizens may like to believe otherwise, but candidates don’t need to speak the truth in TV commercials. They should but there’s no quick penalty if they don’t. So prattling back at the dinner table the supposed “facts” in a TV ad doesn’t mean a thing. We need whole views and comparisons – unless we’re willing to vote like our parents did or even how we did four years ago.
Digging deeper is one reason the Take Action segment of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council’s website is devoting this election year to comprehensive reports from outside experts that provide not just figures but understanding.
These are meaningful comparisons that have a progressive leaning but put the reasoning and the history right out there and carefully. These are not the distractions and petty concerns that call to mind columnist Paul Krugman’s suggestion for a new GOP slogan: "Real men don't think things through."
At present the studies in the Take Action section include:
BUSHONOMICS – It is rare that a report cites what’s wrong with our current economy by conjuring up an old foe of oranized labor, Henry Ford. But Ford at least saw the devastation for democratic capitalism if it paid so poorly that he didn’t have customers.
The loss of that simple common sense is a good place to start understanding what went wrong with our economic policies.
The Center for American Progress, with charts, photos and quick reading segments, details how the basic principles of gains for both business and labor were shown the door in this “ownership” economy, how public fear of taxes produces enormous debt that sells off our country and eventually will require a reckoning.
This report provides a lot of the facts and connections for people seeking to understand what happened to the United States -- and what will continue to happen unless we change our ways.
HEALTH CARE – There may be no starker contrast between McCain and Obama than their approaches to providing health care, and the differences are certainly not as simplistic as they have been painted.
For instance, McCain’s approach may cost less over 10 years but it actually costs more in its first year than the Obama plan – and still doesn’t cover most of the uninsured.
Obama’s plan is not -- despite the commercials suggesting otherwise -- seeking to dismantle the entire current health system and turn it over to the government. It outlines a sophisticated marriage between the public and private sectors on the road toward universal health care.
The Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center did the study and the Economic Policy Institute has detailed the differences in a factual side-by side 5-page summary.
Also available in Take Action are the AFL-CIO fact sheets on Obama’s plans for education and to employ construction unions to rebuild our infrastructure.
And given the vicious distortions in Jerome Corsi’s book about Obama, Take Action also offers the full “Unfit for Publication” report that step by step exposes the misstatements and deliberate distortions of a discredited author notorious for his previous work as a political smear artist.