Other Cool Things

Separating Political Myths from Reality

WARNING LABEL

While this blog is 99% about cool old houses, I also have a section titled Other Cool Things where I reserve the right to discuss other topics.

Even scary topics.

It is said that one should never discuss politics and religion in polite company. I find this helpful advice, and cannot count the times I have managed to keep my mouth closed tight about both subjects while in the company of others.

Today however I would like to discuss politics.

Luckily, I am alone…

 

THE SKEPTIC-O-METER

Michael Short, the Republican National Chair spokesman, recently said:

“Once again Hillary Clinton laughed off questions about her secret email server even though it put our national security at risk and is being investigated by the FBI.”

This is a powerful, damning statement.

But, is the statement true?

Living inside me is an Inner Skeptic, and he relishes statements of the kind made by Short.

My Inner Skeptic has a rule: All satements made by an opponent should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt. Of course candidate X is going to say terrible things about their opponent, candidate Y. It has always been this way, and it is shocking to read, for example, about the terrible (and untrue) things Thomas Jefferson’s opponent said about him!

So, here is the same statement by Short after being filtered through my internal Skeptic-O-Meter:

“Once again Hillary Clinton laughed off questions about her secret email server [there was no secret server. There was a private server. Which was legal] even though it put our national security at risk [there is zero evidence of this] and is being investigated by the FBI [Clinton is not being investigated by the FBI. And, on September 21, FBI General Counsel James A. Baker would neither confirm nor deny that it had the server] .

In short, what Short stated was, well, a big lie.

I know, I know, people reading this who dislike Clinton will just assume I am a fool, and will discount my assertions. They know what Short said is true, and have read and heard tons of stuff supporting Short’s claims.

But just because lies are omnipresent does not mean they are true. I mean, remember when everybody believed the Earth was flat?

Just yesterday, on my Google news page, was this headline:

Yes, Hillary Clinton broke the law

The article was in the New York Post, hardly a bastion of credible reporting. And that was the first thing which got my Inner Skeptic on alert.

Then I looked to see who the author was: Ken Cuccinelli.

Who was Cuccinelli? So, I scrolled down to the bottom of the article: Ken Cuccinelli is president of Senate Conservatives Fund.

What is the Senate Conservatives Fund?

Answer: The Senate Conservatives Fund is a political action committee dedicated to electing true conservatives to the United States Senate.

Ahhhh.

You see, even before reading the article my Inner Skeptic knew it would be a hit piece, because Cuccinelli is being paid to destroy his perceived opponents, the truth be damned!

When a person’s very existence depends on having X view, their views cannot be accepted uncritically.

And why? Because if there is a conflict between:

A) Making the next mortgage payment, or

B) Telling the truth.

…the mortgage payment will win. Almost always, as paying the bills and eating are powerful motivators.

Whenever I read an article about politics I always first try and ascertain WHO wrote the article and HOW are they paying their mortgage. Knowing the answers to these two questions will either calm my Inner Skeptic or put him on high alert.

 

GETTING HYSTERICAL ABOUT PROBLEMS…which do not exist

Americans get worked up by a lot of things. We argue and fight and complain endlessly.

This is mostly good.

However, it is not good when we get all riled about about issues which do not exist, or issues which are not significant problems.

This year, there has been a HUGE amount of hysteria over illegal immigrants from Mexico. A massive amount of rhetoric has been expended over this issue.

But it is, if one cares to check, a non-issue.

In 2008 there were 723,825 illegal alien apprehensions by the US Border Patrol.

The media, and Donald Trump, would have us believe that, in 2015, this number is now out-of-control.

Is it?

In 2014, the number was down by half, to 486,651.

Down by half.

Down by half.

And in the year 2000 there were 1.6 million illegal immigrants.

In short, the “huge” problem is not a huge problem, and illegal Mexican immigration has dropped by more than 3/4 in the last 15 years. The “huge” problem is actually self-correcting.

But you notice how Donald Trump never mentions this provable fact?

 

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This graph shows Mexican immigration to the US, both legal and illegal, since 1991. The trend is glaringly obvious.

 

 

HOW DOES ONE FIND ANY TRUTH?

Most people do not like their views challenged. Recently a friend dramatically stood up and with great energy stated:

“I just want the truth! I just want the truth!”

What my friend wholly does not recognize is that he does NOT want the truth. What he wants is ONLY information which corresponds to his worldview; he thus 100% rejects anything which conflicts with his worldview, and accepts, without question, anything supporting his views no matter that it might be totally, provably untrue.

My friend, sigh, is not a truth seeker, even though he believes himself to be. Well, I still like him.

I certainly have a worldview (we all do) but I work hard at discerning the important distinctions between truths and myths. So, if I am searching for the truth, I avoid any media which has an inherent obvious bias. So, a place like the the Senate Conservatives Fund is SO not trustworthy!

If I am on a website and it consistently slams Republicans while praising Democrats, I will soon stop clicking on the site. The same is true if a site consistently slams Democrats while praising Republicans.

Fox News is notorious for its bias. I know, I know, its loyal followers swear it is fair and balanced but this has been proven to be untrue. Fox, for example, is almost 100% critical of Barack Obama but was almost 100% uncritical of George Bush. That is not fair and balanced.

And I feel confident that Fox has never, nor will ever, say anything positive about Hillary Clinton. Clinton could find a cure for cancer and Fox would find some way to be critical.

I have never met a regular Fox News watcher who did not think that Obama was the absolute worst president ever, and is actually destroying America. The worst! Destroying! Not surprisingly, people I talk to who get their news from a variety of sources do not think this. They may not like Obama, but do not think he the Destroyer Of All Which Is Good.

 

MY SOURCES

There are three online non-partisan sources I check out frequently:

http://www.politifact.com

http://www.factcheck.org

http://www.vox.com

NOTE: People who are far right usually HATE these sources. I understand why, as all three sources regularly prove that what Republicans say is often not true. However, and this is vital to me, the sources do the same with Democrats! That is what non-partisan means!

So, if you are a Republican or Democrat and do NOT like your views challenged, then you will NOT like my suggested sources.

I have one other source which I check regularly. CAVEAT: It cannot by any stretch be considered non-partisan:

http://mediamatters.org

From its website: “Launched in May 2004, Media Matters for America put in place, for the first time, the means to systematically monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation — news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda — every day, in real time.”

While Media Matters is highly partisan, I have nonetheless found it to be highly reliable, something which cannot normally be said of a partisan media outlet (liberal or conservative), as per my comments above.

 

FUN BLUE GRAPHS

PolitiFact.com offers really great, really easy to understand graphs which at a glance show how truthful a candidate is.

I offer this sampling for your consideration.

 

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Ted Cruz. What the above graph makes clear is that Ted Cruz is, most of the time, lying, and he has but a single true statement out of fifty-seven. I do not know about you, but I so do not want a person in the White House who cannot distinguish between fact and fiction. And with Cruz, he deeply believes that his fictions are fact. The man is passionate about his worldview. This just plain scares me.

 

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Donald Trump. What the above graph makes clear is that Trump has never made a true statement. He has some kinda true statements (26%), but way more lies. This just plain scares me.

 

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And Ben Carson? Oh dear. And Carson is one of the front-runners. Oh dear.

 

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush. While Bush (Jeb!) is currently not polling well, he tells the truth more then he lies. What the above graph makes clear is that Bush is far more based in reality (at 67% truthiness) than some other 2016 Republican candidates. I hope for America that this matters to Republican voters.

 

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Marco Rubio. Rubio has been doing better in the polls. What the above graph makes clear is that Rubio tells more truths (64%) than lies. But I would like to see more truth. Come on Marco!

 

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Hillary Clinton. And speaking of Republicans, they have tried for over twenty years to convince the American public that Hillary Clinton is nothing but a liar. Not surprisingly, a great many people (non-Democrats, it should be noted) believe she is. But is this true? What the above graph makes clear is that Clinton, in stark contrast to Cruz and Trump, and in some contrast to Bush and Rubio, is more truthy (71%) than not.

 

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Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders supporters think their candidate is a paragon of virtue. He does score a very high 75% in truthiness. But as the above graph makes clear, he, too, can be a fibber.

 

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Barack Obama. And what about the President? Republicans make Obama out to be wholly incapable of telling the truth, and almost every Republican I know FIRMLY believes this. But the above graph makes it clear that Obama is truthy (a very high 74%) way more than not.

 

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PolitiFact.com also maintains an updated Obameter: “PolitiFact has compiled more than 500 promises that Barack Obama made during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns and is tracking their progress on our Obameter.” The results, above, as of today. So, 70% of Obama’s promises have been kept, or mostly kept. Another 7% are In The Works. Well, I think that is pretty damn good. Source: PolitiFact.com

 

 

PLAYING WITH POLLS

As I am skeptical about the media, I am also skeptical of polls.

When I come across a poll, I first note where it came from.

Like this poll:

 

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The poll is by Fox News. As stated above, Fox will NEVER state anything positive about Clinton, so anything they state should not be accepted uncritically. Here, Fox is stating that Clinton has an unfavorable rating of 56%. But, because I cannot trust Fox, I immediately know that more is going on than is being presented. Source: Fox News.

 

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In a recent Gallup Poll, Clinton has an astonishing 74% favorability rating. That is HUGE. So, what is up????? Is Gallup lying? Is Fox? Well, neither. The vast difference between Fox and Gallup is WHAT the polls are comparing. The Fox poll is based on all registered voters. The Gallup poll is based on registered Democrats, and Independents who lean Democratic. As Clinton does not need registered Republicans to win the presidency, what they think of her is not particularly relevant. Source: Gallup.

 

The media has breathlessly reported on Clinton’s recent drop in the polls. What they do not point out however is the Joe Biden, who is NOT running, has recently been included in the polling. So, yes, duh, Clinton’s numbers would drop. But in the most recent CNN poll, if you take Biden out of the poll, Clinton’s numbers shoot up to 57% of registered Democrats, far higher than ANY other candidate. Even with Biden in, Clinton polls at 42%, which is still FAR higher than any other presidential candidate.

In my opinion, the media is mostly hostile to Clinton, both left and right. As such, it is difficult to find any accurate reporting on the candidate. What is interesting however, fascinating actually, is that even with the relentless negative reporting, Clinton far outstrips all other presidential candidates. What this indicates is that Americans have a much stronger Bullshit Meter than we are given credit for. And this warms my heart.

In short, when I look at a new poll I want to know the source (and is the source credible?), and what is the poll based on (all voters, or voters from X party? Is the poll national, or state-based?). I am also aware that poll numbers this early in the game offer no guarantee about what will happen on November 4, 2016.

 

OLD FINANCIAL MYTHS

It is accepted as a truism that Republicans are better with money than Democrats. Even many Democrats believe this.

The chart below shows the US Federal deficit since WWII (as a percentage of the gross national product). A glance will state the obvious: most presidents, no matter which party, run a deficit (meaning the government is spending more than it is taking in).

Since I was born in 1957 there was a tiny surplus under Kennedy, and another tiny surplus under Nixon. Under Reagan and George H. Bush there was a huge increase in the deficit. Then along came a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who immediately began reducing the debt, which he then totally erased, and then created a four-year surplus, the longest and largest surplus since I was born.

Then came the second Bush. The surplus was instantly spent, and the deficit increased to its highest ever levels:

 

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In 2009, the deficit reached scary levels. While this was Obama’s first year in office, no president is responsible for the budget of their first year, as this is set in place the previous year. From the Congressional Budget Office.

 

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Beginning in 2010, Obama has steadily chipped away at the deficit. By the time he leaves office in January, 2017, it appears that the deficit will be even lower. From the Congressional Budget Office.

 

Until the deficit becomes a surplus, the national debt cannot be lowered, as the two go hand-in-hand. So, decreasing the deficit is the first step to lowering the debt. And the current debt level, while staggering, is manageable. So far.

Another interesting fact is that the national economy does better under Democrats than Republicans, and more jobs are thus created:

 

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Average annualized GDP growth, by presidency.

 

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Another graph which destroys the myth that Republicans are better at managing money: Source: Federal Reserve

 

 

CHANGING DEMOGRAHICS

Change is afoot.

Big change.

From a Pew Center report, as of 2014, there were more registered Independents than ever, 39%. However, this is only a bit higher than 23-years ago, when the number was 36%.

Democrats are at 32%. This is only a tiny bit lower than 23-years ago, when the number was 33%.

Republicans are at 23%, down from 28% in 1992, the largest statistical change.

All this matters. Hugely.

A big chunk of the Republican base is the oldest generation alive. This demographic group is very conservative, and they also vote. They really love voting. So, they are a powerful group. But, this group is dying off. In five years this group will be reduced significantly. In ten years this group will basically vanish.

The majority of young people are identifying as Independents. So, this party is growing. However, without a strong Independent candidate, the majority of Independents will vote Democrat (in the last two presidential elections, young people voted Democratic almost twice as much as they did Republican, 65% to 35%).

 

Source: Pew Research Center.
Source: Pew Research Center.

 

In 2008 and 2012, statisticians predicted that there were no longer enough Republicans to win the presidency.

They are predicting the same for 2016.

Well, we shall see.

 

A PLEA TO ALL THE CANDIDATES

I am not interested in what you think about your opponents.

Really, I am profoundly not interested.

Not only am I not interested, but I am repelled when you disparage an opponent, be the opponent on your side of the political fence, or across the fence.

What I am interested in is two things, and two things only.

How are YOU going to make a difference?

What is YOUR experience?

 

SUMMATION

All politicians lie.

I repeat, all politicians lie.

Some lies are deliberate. Some are based on ignorance. Some are simply because the candidate was exhausted when X question was asked.

I think elections matter. And no matter what party you identify with, do you think doing some basic non-partisan research, to find which candidate of your party lies the least, is a good idea?

Do you also think it is a good idea to do some basic non-partisan research to find out which party really IS better at improving the economy, creating more jobs, and helping to make better lives for most Americans?

10 Responses to Separating Political Myths from Reality

  1. Well thought out and researched piece. This should be taught in journalist schools on how to do research. And how to write an article! Bravo!

    There’s a lot to take in but everything is factually sound which makes it easy to read.

    I think you should write for the NY Times and show them how to do it right!

    • Thank you! It was a ton of work putting this post together. I am exhausted!

      Oh, I had to laugh at the NY Times reference. A few months ago I cancelled my $30 a month online Times subscription because they have gotten so sloppy about their reporting.

  2. Ross, I think I love you.

    Seriously, though–well said! I’ve followed Ezra Klein (Vox) for a few years now, and will check out the others. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Bravo Ross.

    But if you want to see something truely terrifing, watch this.

    It may be true that they’ll never say anything good about Hillary, but it’s nice to see them calling out their own. If you like podcasts, check out “On The Media” – they provide an interesting look into nonsense journalism at times…

  4. I apologize in advance for the rambling nature of my comments:

    Part of the reason for the vast polarization in this country is that one side is dealing with myths, the other side reality. They often are not compatible. Both sides have deeply held beliefs. Beliefs don’t have to be true, they don’t have to be based on fact, beliefs are what we want to believe. Sometimes we search for verifiable facts or research to reinforce our beliefs, sometimes we rely on anecdotal stories, true or not which reinforce our world view. We choose what we want to believe. Some people believe in God, others do not. Neither side can definitively prove their belief is true. To “true believers” no proof or facts are necessary. They believe it. End of story.

    Today’s conservatives believe we are a country in great peril. They believe the U.S. is under attack. They believe God is on their side, and they both are under attack. They believe it is all the fault of our black president. They do not like change, even if change helps solve current social problems.

    Progressives, believe in progress, moving forward, not backwards. They are not afraid of change, they embrace it.

    Conservatives look back to a time when America was great and want to return to it. Unfortunately, it was only great in the minds of middle class white guys. Even then they cannot define when it was or what exactly it looked like. They need look no deeper than the phrase “God, Guns & Guts”. You could delve into each one of these to see just how fearful the right is of changes in a secular society which believes gun violence is the result of too many guns, in tandem with guts. You don’t back down, you don’t negotiate, you blast your enemy. Anyway, I am rambling too much and could go on.

    Benghazi, the pretend email scandal, immigration , the deficit and now planned parenthood are all mythical scandals created by the right to reinforce the deeply held beliefs of the “true believers”. These people are scared of the changes in society. They do not like how things are changing: Gay marriage, health care for all, public education, the push for more gun control.

    How do you counteract these changes?
    1. Gerrymander congressional districts so only their kind gets elected and reelected.
    2. Limit the voter pool with voter suppression laws. Basically trying to keep the angry white male in charge
    3. Unlimited funding of campaigns (citizens united)
    4. Destroy public education and promote private schools so we can indoctrinate the next generation the way we want them to think.

    I could go off on separate threads on any one of these topics, however, back to the topic.

    Ross, your observations are based on verifiable facts from mostly nonpartisan sources. If both sides could sit down, agree on a basic set of facts and begin a dialog on how to solve current problems perhaps we could solve a few problems. We need as a society to decide what we want this country to look like in 10, 50 or 100 years. A discussion not likely to happen in an environment of distrust and hostility toward the other side. Not likely to happen when billions are spent by special interests to insure electoral outcomes. More likely we will bumble along as we have been, gradually insuring our decline as this great experiment in democracy has been hijacked by the moneyed interests, not the public interest.

  5. It’s almost a year after the election and I STILL read your whole post. Clearly, you’re a thoughtful, intelligent man who searches for truth. The point you made about people not wanting the truth, but validation for their beliefs is valid and astute. Thank you for working diligently on potting this post together. It was enjoyable and insightful without being preachy and haughty.

    As a side note, I’ve spent the last three days reading all your house posts. It’s obvious from those posts that you DO search for the truth – even in architecture! It doesn’t surprise me a bit about your politics. Wish I had found your post earlier to share with some who said, “I just can’t vote for her, she’s such a liar”. Ahhh.

    Also, even though I have been enthralled and absorbed by your house, it’s this post that I just HAD to respond to!

    • Thank you. I am quite touched by your comment.

      Also, your observation that my search for the truth of the Cross House mirrors my search for political truth is fascinating. I never thought about that before!

      Much love,

      Ross

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