Facts and reason v. distortions and innuendo

We’re pretty careful when we post something on this web page.  When we see something in the news that we think is of interest and relevant to the Democratic perspective, we first try to make certain that it is accurate and verifiable before creating a blog entry.  We also typically imbed links that serve as backup material for the statements we make.  That’s because we expect our readers NOT to simply accept what we say here on blind faith, but to require that such statements be fact-based.  It’s a standard we work arduously and proudly to uphold.

Not everyone, of course, adheres to this approach.  Many political web sites, political advocacy groups and even major media outlets frequently run stories and ads that distort the actual facts, leave out critical details or are just simply untrue, delivering what their readers/viewers WANT to hear – WANT to be true – as opposed to what is actually true, complete and relevant.  A few examples:

Last fall, at the beginning of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rollout, Sean Hannity had three couples on his show who were, in the host’s words, “feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck.”  After these couples were contacted by (actual) journalists, none of their stories held up under scrutiny.

One couple stated that, “because of Obamacare, they can’t grow their construction business and they have kept their employees below a certain number of hours, so that they are part-timers.”  Well, it turns out that the company in question had only four employees.  The only ACA requirement for such small companies is that they notify their employees of the existence of the Obamacare exchanges.  Under the ACA, you would only be required to provide insurance if you have at least 50 full-time employees.

The other two couples both received cancellation letters from their current carriers and were quoted pretty stiff increases for Obamacare-compliant policies by those same companies.  Both couples also refused to even check the exchanges for comparable policies simply because they “didn’t like Obamacare.”  Journalists checking the web sites for them found that both could receive better coverage for less money.  How can you claim something is bad – on national television, yet – when you haven’t even examined it?

In Louisiana, Americans for Prosperity, funded largely by the petro-chemical magnates, Charles and David Koch, is running ads against incumbent U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.  The ads depict Louisianans receiving letters from their insurance companies that supposedly cancel their policies and blame the Affordable Care Act.  Problem is, the ads not only feature professional actors instead of actual Louisiana citizens, but also, the producers concede, do not even reflect any specific individual cases.  The events depicted are instead, according to the producers, “emblematic” of what is happening in that state.  You will note that they did not support that claim by citing any real cases.

And, lastly, right here in little old San Juan County, the Republican web site has a post up claiming that, “OBAMACARE IS LITERALLY KILLING THE MIDDLE CLASS.”  The post is simply a link to (yet another) Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity ad, this one being aired in Michigan.  It features a woman who has leukemia and claims that Obamacare caused cancellation of her existing policy and that the replacement one has out-of-pocket costs that make her treatments unaffordable, a heart-rending story to be sure.  The local GOPers clearly liked what this ad said so much that they simply neglected to check out whether it was accurate.  But, that’s okay, the folks at the Washington Post did it for them.  Turns out that the lady’s premiums for her old policy were about $1,100 per month.  Those for her new policy under the ACA are about half that.  The savings for that over a year almost exactly equal the out-of-pocket maximum payments under the ACA of $6,350, so the whole thing is pretty much a wash.  Oh, she also gets to keep her doctor.  The Washington Post gave the ad two Pinocchios for “Significant omissions and/or exaggerations.”

Research gives us insight into why these types of emotional appeals work irrespective of whether there is any rational substance behind them.  Sadly, it indicates that political attitudes are largely formed by cultural, environmental and other factors, rather than as a result of information gathering and reasoned thought.  One unfortunate consequence of this is that attempts to persuade people to change based on presentation of facts more often than not simply leads to a hardening of their attitudes.  Despite this discouraging finding, we will continue to deploy factual information and rational analysis to our opinions on this page.  A man can only deny the truth for so long.

A few notes on the Republican perspective

The local Republican web site has an article up this week with their take on the differences between how each of the major parties approaches the (ostensibly) mutually agreed objectives of “happy lives free of stress and having the unfortunate cared for.”

As examples of how to realize “happiness in personal wealth and healthy communities including care for the needy,” they list:

Successful Businesses
The Food Bank/Resource Center
Church Outreach and Hospitals
Service Organizations-Lions, Rotary, Kiwanas
Local Animal Shelters

Well, we’re all for successful businesses, particularly the locally-owned variety.  And we all support the efforts of local service organizations, volunteers and similar efforts to help those who need it.  But the fact is that these, alone, are wholly insufficient to either adequately facilitate the pursuit of happiness or address the needs of the less fortunate.

In 2011, the federal government doled out just under $97 billion for food assistance of various types (the recently passed agriculture bill cuts this by about $1 billion per year).  Yes, that’s a lot of money, but compare it to the TOTAL for similar aid given by charitable groups in the same year: $4.1 billion.  Republicans can gnash teeth and rend garments all day long about having their tax dollars go to feed others, but the fact is that private charity can’t come close to meeting the need that exists for supplemental food assistance.

A third of all new businesses fail within two years.  Half are gone within four years.  While we salute and admire those who have borne that risk and survived, starting a business is not for everyone.  And it’s clearly not a general recipe for “happy lives free of stress.”  So Republicans can wax all 1%-ish they want about free market capitalism and charitable  being the Yellow Brick Road to happiness and freedom from want, but a look at actual intrinsic data just doesn’t bear that out.

The Republican web post also lists the following as examples of government programs that fail to “take care of [our] happiness and the needs of the unfortunate”:

Postal System
Social Security

The USPS delivers great service at very reasonable prices.  It’s purported fiscal problems are almost entirely a creation of Congress.  During the Iraq War, my office adopted a platoon and regularly sent snacks, treats, music, DVDs and other items to the troops (you’ll notice that, even though I didn’t support the war, I supported the troops).  The first time I sent a package, I sent it via UPS.  The cost was outrageous, just for ground delivery.  After that, I sent by US Mail for about a third of the cost.  That made ME pretty happy.  Also, ever tried to get UPS or FedEx to deliver a simple letter across the country for 46 cents?  Try it.  It WON’T make you very happy.  BTW, 77% of Americans are happy with the USPS, better numbers than those of free market icons such as Google, computer software makers, telephone companies, and internet service providers.

Just like the postal service, most of Amtrak’s financial problems were created by Congress and just like the USPS, Congress could fix them if they wanted to. Just 26 of Amtrak’s routes carry four-fifths of its passengers, or 25.8 million riders per year. Ridership on these routes is growing rapidly and they are profitable.

Medicaid is a program that provides health care coverage for 58 million people who otherwise could not afford it.  While we have food banks and similar functions, a Google search for “free clinic San Juan county Washington” turned up zero relevant results.  Please tell me how entrepreneurship and charitable giving are going to meet the needs of 58 million people with no access to affordable healthcare?

With the possible exception of Medicare, Social Security is far and away the most popular and successful government program ever established.  Does it make people happy?  Does it provide for the needy?  Well, try taking it away and see what happens.  No, wait.  Don’t even go that far.  Just try and make changes to it that might endanger its viability in the eyes of those receiving benefits.  Actually, you don’t have to do either.  Just ask George W. Bush how it would go over with the American electorate.  He has some experience in that area.

Obamacare is well on its way to providing affordable healthcare access to millions who would otherwise be without it.  This will be of great benefit not only to those who gain coverage, but also the rest of us whose premiums will be lower, hospitals and other providers which will have now serve many more whose bills will not have to be written off as bad debts and insurance companies themselves which will profit from millions more customers.  How is this NOT a win-win for both communities and healthcare providers?

Like most Republican arguments, these are mere statements, claims with no basis in fact, and – you will notice, – they provide absolutely no supporting material.  The article concludes with the statement, “Watch while Republicans clean up the present mess.”  Well, before they can do that, they’ll have to convince the electorate to give them the chance.  With “arguments” like these, it’s hard to see the electorate giving them the imprimatur to do so.