Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bonanza Column 231 – Pots and Kettles

I just bought a t-shirt that says “Annoy a Conservative: Use Facts and Logic,” and I seem to have been doing a pretty good job of that even without the shirt. There is a strong trend in Conservative responses to these columns and Conservative discourse in general to (a) accuse Progressives of ignoring or not having the facts of a given situation, (b) stating at most one fact and then (c) going on to state opinions and interpretations of the facts as if they were the truth and anyone who does not see it that way must be crazy, agenda-driven, or both. I.e., the pot calling the kettle black.

Case  in point: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) keeps pointing to a graph he made charting US debt as a percentage of GDP from 1940 to the present and extrapolated to 2080. The first 70 years of this chart are fact – they show that debt was as high as 100% of GDP during World War II, has hovered around 50% since 1990 or so and is now about 70% (you can find Ryan’s plan at Ryan then goes on to extrapolate a “current path” leading to debt being 900% of GDP in 2080 – a classic “hockey stick” curve, and a “path to prosperity leading to zero in 2050. Both are pure guesswork, and neither can be said to be right or wrong, though extrapolating a very weak trend into a straight, high-slope curve is a statistical stretch.

Here’s the problem, though – in pushing his “path to prosperity, Ryan is only telling part of the facts. Under his plan (which is unlikely to be enacted), the cost of Medicare does follow a hockey stick curve while Social Security income continues at an almost flat rate of growth. Under the current system, that slow growth roughly matches the cost of living (or lags behind it), and includes Medicare; under Ryan’s plan, a greater and greater portion of retiree’s income would go to pay for health care, or they would go without. By 2030 or so, most older Americans will face a Hobson’s Choice of bankruptcy or no medical care.

Now I don’t know about you, but I was taught that there are three ways to lie: falsify the truth, omit relevant facts, or only tell part of the truth as if it were the whole. Ryan’s argument and that of the right wing of the GOP fits the last two criteria at least. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO),  under the GOP plan, people entering the program in 2030 can expect to pay $20,000 out of their own pockets for health care. At the current rate of adjustment, the average person on Social Security will receive about $21,000 that year. Those are facts. Good luck living on that other thousand, and heaven help you if you enter the program after 2030.

There’s more to the Ryan/GOP proposal than this, but none of it is any better. Conservatives seem to be banking on scare slogans like “Road to Ruin” to panic people into supporting proposals that benefit large corporations that have given millions to the GOP and to the Tea Party while leaving ordinary people in the dust. Call me naïve, but I don’t believe the average American is quite that stupid. Notwithstanding that, in the post-Citizens United world, the influence of the average American on his or her government is quickly diminishing and that of the likes of the Koch Brothers, the NRA, and lobbies for industries like health insurance is on the rise.

Both here in the Tahoe Basin and nationally, those who have amassed enough wealth that they don’t need to worry about Social Security and health care are all to ready to dismantle these and other programs in service of keeping their own coffers intact. It’s an “I’ve got mine, too bad about you” mentality reminiscent of the 19th Century robber barons, and even those rapacious individuals were socially conscious (or guilty) enough to endow various public institutions – what have the Koch Brothers done for you lately?

So our local version of the Tea Party (hmm… Tea Party=TP, We the People = WTP…I'm just sayin’) will come screaming back with name-calling and slogans and precious few facts while accusing those who oppose them of doing exactly what they themselves are doing – substituting opinion and agenda for facts and distorting the evidence. Don’t be fooled.

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