Spinsanity: Countering rhetoric with reason
Home | Columns | Posts | Topics | Email list | About | Search

Posts - July 1-8

7/6 - Bryan: Krugman predicts shortfalls, Bush spin (permanent link)
[Email this to a friend]

In an op-ed column in today's New York Times, economist Paul Krugman argues, as he has on several previous occasions, that Bush deliberately lied about the costs of the recent tax cut. Krugman writes:

[T]o sell the tax cut Mr. Bush's people deliberately underestimated the cut's impact on revenues; deliberately underestimated the cost of delivering on the administration's promises on defense, education and prescription drugs; and deliberately swept under the rug other budget issues, like the need to fix the alternative minimum tax, that will inevitably subtract hundreds of billions from the surplus. In short, the claim that the tax cut was easily affordable given other priorities was what is technically known as a "lie."

Unhappy with how Bush successfully spun the media on the cost of his tax, Krugman continues by making predictions about how Bush will try to convince the public that he can afford to pay for his policy priorities:

At first the Bush Team's line will be that the economic slump is the sole source of the [budget] shortfall. Once that line has been exhausted, they will . . . [say] that while the Social Security surplus is in a "lockbox,"the Medicare surplus is fair game. . . .
Finally, when it becomes apparent that the tax cut will cut into the Social Security trust fund too quite possibly as soon as next year we'll be told that this doesn't matter, the trust fund is a mere accounting fiction. (In fact, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has already started saying this.) And in a way, that's true. But it's an accounting fiction with a purpose - namely, to prevent irresponsible politicians from undermining the government's long-term ability to honor its promises. Alas, it failed.

While Krugman's argument is of the type we would normally criticize essentially putting words in the mouths of the opposition but Krugman makes it in a generally reasonable way. He makes claims that can (and will) be tested and that are over matters of fact, rather than speculation. The hyperbole at the end ("Alas, it failed") is less forgivable. Rest assured that we'll be on the lookout for spinning by both sides in the pending shortfall blame-fest.

Related links:
-Bush tax cut costs $1.35 trillion . . . no, $1.8 trillion (Ben Fritz, 6/21)
-Recycling rhetoric: Media coverage of the Bush tax cut (Ben Fritz, 5/29)
-Where's the outrage? (Brendan Nyhan, 5/11)
-Andrew Sullivan says deceive the public (Brendan Nyhan, 5/7)

Subscribe to our email list and you'll always know who's trying to spin you.

7/6 - Brendan: Limbaugh takes on Mooney (permanent link)
[Email this to a friend]

Rush Limbaugh defended himself yesterday against Chris Mooney's recent American Prospect Online article, which analyzes attacks on Tom Daschle and discusses Limbaugh's part in them. He has posted a text article based on his comments on his website, as well as Windows Media Player audio files of the original segments from his radio show [part 1, part 2, part 3].

Limbaugh's commentary on his show was particularly noteworthy in one respect. In response to criticism of his attack on Tom Daschle as an illegitimate Senate majority leader, Limbaugh simply repeated his argument that Daschle assumed the position because of the Jeffords switch rather than the votes of the American people. He also again contrasted Daschle explicitly with Bush, who he argues is a legitimate president.

All of this is largely repetition. Instead of answering criticism of his logic, Limbaugh specifically framed it as illegitimate because Democrats supposedly said the same thing about President Bush. "It was the Democrats who said that George W. Bush was illegitimate," he said. Later, he commented, "[a]ll I was doing was taking their argument and throwing it back at them."

Let's be clear - Bush's legitimacy or illegitimacy has no bearing on Daschle's, and an attack on Bush does not legitimize an attack on Daschle (or vice versa). Each argument must stand on its own. As I have argued, Limbaugh's does not.

Related links:
-Coordinated Daschle attack admitted (Brendan Nyhan, 6/28)
-The Wall Street Journal and Tom Daschle (Ben Fritz, 6/2)
-Daschle-bashing 102 (Bryan Keefer, 5/30)
-The illegitimacy attack / Daschle-bashing (Brendan Nyhan, 5/25)
-Jeffords war of words (Bryan Keefer, 5/24)
-Democrats are wrong on arsenic (Brendan Nyhan, 4/30)
-Limbaugh on the warpath (Brendan Nyhan, 4/30)

Subscribe to our email list and you'll always know who's trying to spin you.

7/3 - Bryan: Thomas Bray gives us "Chuck Schumer's America" (permanent link)
[Email this to a friend]

As Michael Kinsley pointed out last week and I elaborated on in my column yesterday, a key tactic in preempting Democratic criticism of judicial nominations is framing the conservative position as a defense of the Constitution and a theoretical "strict" interpretation of the law.

Thomas Bray presents a perfect example of this strategy in his Opinion Journal column today. Bray gives us a "hypothetical exchange between a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee - call him Mr. Mainstream - and a Bush nominee":

Sen. Mainstream: Let's come right to the point. Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Federalist Society?
Nominee: Well, Senator, I guess we're all McCarthyites now . . .
Nominee: . . . [The Federalist Society's] main principle is that judges should stick to saying what the law is, not what the law ought to be. . . .
Nominee: . . . I don't think we should be reading things into the Constitution that aren't there or that the Framers didn't intend. If people want to change the Constitution, they have the power to do so.
Mainstream: That's just code language for judicial activism of the right.
Nominee: Actually, Senator, it's the language of the Framers.

The McCarthy reference is, of course, a staple emotional trope (a recent example of its use is the phrase "racial McCarthyism" popularized by David Horowitz). But note how the question from "Mr. Mainstream" - an obvious stand-in for Senator Schumer - is immediately framed as illegitimate prying.

Bray continues by having the nominee frame his position as simply playing by the rules, when in fact it constitutes a debatable position over both the intent of the framers of the Constitution and way in which the Constitution should be interpreted. It simply closes off debate and makes all Democratic opposition look like, well, McCarthyism.

Subscribe to our email list and you'll always know who's trying to spin you.

7/2 - Ben: Lies, damned lies and spin (permanent link)
[Email this to a friend]

If Mark Twain were alive today, he might want to add a stanza to his famous quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Thanks to many modern pundits, the damndest lies of all seem to be interpretations of statistics.

For today's evidence, take a look at Bob Herbert's op-ed column in the New York Times.Using a New York Times / CBS poll that found that Bush's approval rating has dropped to 50 percent, Herbert proceeds to launch an attack against the President that gets harsher and harsher as it goes along, and more removed from the very statistics he uses as a hook.

Herbert notes early on that Bush "has shown little leadership and remains out of step with a majority of Americans on many other issues. His ratings in the Times poll on energy, on the environment and on foreign policy were well below 50 percent." It certainly seems true from the poll that the majority of Americans disagree with Bush's handling of these issues, although leadership certainly seems separate. After all, does demonstrating leadership necessarily make one popular? Bush certainly has spent considerable time on the environment and foreign policy, regardless of what the public thinks of his stances. .

Not much later, Herbert conflates the President's frequent verbal missteps with his poll numbers, somehow suggesting that the public should judge him harshly because of them:

It's a wonder his approval ratings aren't lower. There are now book- length editions of his misadventures with the English language ("I know how hard it is to put food on your family"), and he is a figure of constant ridicule on late-night television.

Next step: spinning recent coverage of the Vice-President's heart condition to suggest that Bush is seen as president in name only. "There's a reason why Dick Cheney's health problems get the kind of coverage ordinarily reserved for the president's health," he notes, seeming to suggest that if Al Gore had been to the hospital numerous time for a potentially deadly condition two years ago, it would have run on page 15 in most newspapers.

At the end of the article, though, now totally detached from any poll numbers, Herbert reveals the true agenda of his piece:

On Friday the Senate passed a popular patients' rights bill that was vehemently opposed by the health insurance industry. Nine Republican senators voted for the bill, but Mr. Bush has threatened to veto it. And that's a problem.
Fairly or unfairly, the man who campaigned for president as a Republican with a heart, a compassionate conservative, appears to be favoring the cold, heartless insurers over ordinary Americans struggling with illness and their finances.
It's exactly the kind of stance that causes poll numbers to sink.

Of course there's nothing wrong with arguing that vetoing the patients' bill of rights would be the right move. Herbert, however, is clearly trying to suggest that the President's falling popularity is exactly due to this type of stance. He stopped citing the poll halfway through the article, however, because clearly the statistics could only take him so far. Luckily for Herbert, though, there's spin to take him the rest of the way there.

Related links:
-Election 2000 debate re-ignites (Ben Fritz, 6/6)

Subscribe to our email list and you'll always know who's trying to spin you.

Home | Columns | Posts | Topics | Email list | About | Search

This website is copyright (c) 2001-2002 by Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer and Brendan Nyhan. Please send letters to the editor for publication to letters@spinsanity.org and private questions or comments to feedback@spinsanity.org.