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October 09, 2012 7:53 am

The Amend Corner: Half the truth is not true

Written by Don Amend

About a month ago, I used this space to talk about the truthfulness, or lack thereof, of the candidates in this year’s presidential election. Since the Republicans had just finished their convention at the time, I used examples from the speeches rendered at that event.

A week or so later, while warming my aching back in the spa at the aquatic center, I was approached by a friend who asked me if I was now going to write about the other side of the coin, meaning, of course, the Democrats.

Well, that was a fair question, and I had, in fact, been planning to do that. Not because I have an obligation to do so, you understand. This is, after all, the opinion page, so I don’t really have to tell both sides of the story. Still, I like to believe I am an objective observer of the political scene, so this is a chance to test that belief.

As I told my friend, though, there was a bit of a problem. Certain personal distractions caused me to pretty much space out the Democratic convention, and, in fact, I didn’t pay much attention to the campaign at all for a couple weeks, except for smidgens of news caught on the radio as I woke up mornings. Besides that, I sort of forgot about my promise.

Fortunately, last week’s debate and the reporting in the aftermath reminded me and provided some points for this essay. The event also provided some examples of some of the most difficult misleading statements to deal with, namely those that only tell half the story and those that rely on carefully chosen evidence and carefully ignored evidence to the contrary.

Take, for example, the president’s claim that his budget plan will cut the budget deficit by $4 trillion by 2022 through spending cuts along with $1 in tax or fee increases for every $2.50 in spending cuts. The $4 trillion happens to come from the Simpson-Bowles plan for reducing the deficit, which lends legitimacy to the president’s plan in the minds of many voters.

But there are a couple of things wrong with this statement. First of all, someone listening to this plan would likely assume that the $4 trillion goal would be the result of new cuts, but it isn’t. The president reaches that figure by including $1.7 trillion in cuts that were made last year. Without counting those cuts, the president is really only proposing a little over $2 trillion in cuts, according to a couple of organizations, one conservative and one liberal, that have studied his plan. Now, whether those already made cuts should count might be arguable, but that’s an important fact the president is leaving out, and it’s misleading.

The second problem is that a voter listening to the plan might think it meets the goal set by the Simpson-Bowles Commission unless he notices one little difference. The Simpson-Bowles plan would reach the $4 trillion goal by 2020, two years sooner than the Obama plan. In other words, the president’s plan appears to be like the commission’s plan when it really isn’t, so it’s also misleading.

Another problematic claim by the president is that Romney’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act would mean 50 million people would lose their health care coverage. The trouble is that this number is based on the number of uninsured who stand to obtain health insurance because of the law by 2022. The projection by the Congressional Budget Office is that the law will reduce the number of uninsured to 30 million by that date. Without the law, there would be 60 million by that date. So that means 30 million people would lose health insurance over the next 10 years. The other 20 million losers would be those the Obama campaign says will result from Republican proposals to reform Medicaid, which is a totally different program from Medicare.

Now I’d be surprised if many, if not most, of you are rather confused by that last paragraph. The fact is, I’m a little confused by it myself, and that’s just the problem. The problems and policies that are being debated in this election are horrendously complex. Given that, it’s easy for politicians to pick and choose the facts from the facts on an issue and bend them as necessary to support their positions.

In that regard, Romney and Obama are no different from presidential candidates of the past. Abe wasn’t always honest, for example. Candidates have lied about each other and misled the public on issues ever since humans began to work together to solve problems, so dishonest claims are nothing new.

But, before we repeat that old complaint that politicians are all liars, I would toss in something else I wrote in a past column. When you are part of a democratic form of government, you are a politician. Politics is the way we resolve differences and make decisions in a democracy, and whether or not you participate actively in the process, you are part of the politics of this nation.

Does that mean we are all liars, at least where politics is concerned?

That’s a subject for another column.

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