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Posts - August 1-5

8/3 - Ben: Bush sums up his achievements, and his spin (permanent link)
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In a Rose Garden speech today to celebrate the accomplishments of his first six months in office, President Bush took an opportunity not only to list what he considers to be his administration's major achievements, but to spin the past and future to his advantage.

The spin starts early on as the President says, "We are ending deadlock and drift and making our system work on behalf of the American people." What exactly Bush means by this phrase is unclear. There is certainly no evidence that there have been fewer "deadlocks" in the Bush Administration than under President Clinton. And it isn't even clear what the word "drift" means in politics, except that it, along with deadlock, is certainly something good to be against.

Bush also states "We have broken six years of gridlock in the task of protecting patients from arbitrary medical decisions made by bureaucrats." In fact, however, while the House did pass a version of the Patients' Bill of Rights acceptable to the President, the Senate-passed version has many differences. Most articles on the topic, including a recent piece in the Washington Post, have predicted further gridlock as the Democratic Senate and Republican House attempt to find a mutually acceptable version of their bills in conference. It still seems highly unlikely that the six years of gridlock Bush claims partial credit for overcoming is at an end.

Bush also uses a subtle rhetorical technique that Brendan Nyhan has previously pointed out here: painting those who agree with him as being above short-term, partisan interests. "And I want to express my thanks for every legislator who made tough decisions, every legislator who chose long-term progress over short-term political gain," the President said. Essentially, after listing a number of policies in various states of completion that he approves of - the tax cut and Patients' Bill of Rights listed above, as well as education and energy reform - Bush frames those who have opposed him as being interested in "short-term political gain" and those who support him as having made "tough decisions" for "long-term progress."

It is certainly within the President's right to wax philosophic, especially at a time of reflection. Thus we here at Spinsanity don't dispute glossy phrases like "I'm headed home to the heartland, to listen to the American people, and to talk about the values that unite and sustain our country" that have little substantive meaning.

However, when a President says things like "[The American people] want us to be principled, not partisan. They want us to look for agreement instead of looking for fights and arguments. Americans know obstructionism when they see it; and when necessary, I will point it out," we get worried. Such statements frame any who oppose Bush as being partisan obstructionists, and give the President the right to label them as such. In a democracy dependent on healthy debate, that's exactly what we don't need.

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Related links:
-Using 'Changing the Tone' to Suppress Criticism (Brendan Nyhan, 6/4)

8/3 - Ben: A correction to "Kuttner's fuzzy memory on tax rebates" (permanent link)
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A number of readers wrote to us in response to my post Wednesday criticizing Robert Kuttner to say that I was the one spinning. They argue that, in fact, the rebate in the tax cut plan enacted differs substantially from that proposed by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which Kuttner praised. On the policy issue, these readers are correct.

I have done more research and found that, in fact, I was wrong to say that the EPI proposal was "slightly different." In fact, while EPI proposed a $500 rebate for every man, woman and child, the Bush plan only offers $300 for each adult, or $500 for a single parent. Most regrettably, however, I failed to note that many adults will not get all or part of the rebate. A study by the liberal Citizens for Tax Justice found that 34 million Americans--26 percent--will get no rebate, while 17 million--13 percent--will get only a partial rebate based on the size of their federal income tax liability. I apologize for my misleading statement that the EPI proposal was "slightly different." In fact, it was substantially different.

However, I still regard Kuttner saying that Bush is attempting to "buy your vote" with the rebate as spin. Most Americans are likely to spend their rebate, and thus there is a good chance that it will provide the "constructive jolt" that Kuttner said the EPI proposal would give the softening economy. In addition, the majority of people in the middle and lower-middle quintiles will receive at least some rebate, partially fulfilling Kuttner's goal of putting "money in pockets that need it." Most importantly, though, the rebate was supported by many Democrats, and is part of a tax cut that Bush has been supporting since he ran for President last year. Calling it an attempt to buy votes is spin, and I do not regret pointing that out.

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Related links:
-Kuttner's Fuzzy Memory on Tax Rebates (Ben Fritz, 8/3)

8/2 - Bryan: An avalanche of jargon from Linda Bowles (permanent link)
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Linda Bowles may have set some sort of record with her syndicated column which ran in the Washington Times on Tuesday (it's no longer on their website, but you can find it at Townhall.com). In a single 425 word sentence nominally about what's wrong with our current educational system, she creates an incredible cascade of emotional rhetoric. Here, for the record, is the entire paragraph:

While Johnny and Jill may not be learning how to read, they are learning that: teachers are underpaid, God is irrelevant, big business is ruining the environment, the Bible says driving an SUV is a sin, rewards should be based on need rather than performance, bisexual individuals are under the command of unstable genes, the Alamo was a great Mexican victory, society rather than the individual is responsible for crime, saving the sucker fish is more important than saving farmers, teachers' pay should be doubled, a diversity of cultures and languages is America's strength, Thomas Jefferson was a racist, two plus two equals whatever, competition is destructive, the right to be wrong makes wrong right, the Boy Scouts are a hate group, Ronald Reagan is responsible for the disappearance of the dinosaurs, the Catholic Church is a hate group, tdefending yourself promotes violence, the government is the source from which all blessings flow, Southern Baptists are a hate group, high taxes are good for America, equality is more important than excellence, carbon dioxide is poisoning the world, cops hate black people, putting a condom on a cucumber is child's play, the Salvation Army is a hate group, the Constitution is obsolete, God is a homophobe, porpoises are smarter than people, the Constitution requires the government to censor religious speech, taxes are the same as charitable contributions, boys and girls are exactly the same except girls are better, the toleration of evil is a virtue, moral discernment is a hate crime, cutting taxes is like stealing from poor people, American Indians would not have polluted the environment even if they had known how, George Washington was a racist, rich people enjoy stomping on poor people, the condom is mightier than the conscience, Christopher Columbus infected the natives with syphilis, one person's opinion is as good as any other, the American Constitution was written by racists and sexists, Ronald Reagan is responsible for the spread of AIDS, teachers should be paid as much as NFL quarterbacks, sex between consenting children is inevitable, all sexual orientations are created equal, religious people are bigots, in the beginning there was a big explosion, a family is any collection of oddballs living under one roof, the right to kill babies is in the Constitution, it is un-American to have more than someone else does, the only hope of the world is for workers everywhere to unite, and it is the constitutional responsibility of government to provide jobs, housing, clothing, condoms, hot lunches, living wages, family leave, child care and band-aids to all citizens.

While certainly not the most sophisticated rhetoric one might come across, it bears analyzing simply because of its volume (leaving aside the piece's obvious factual distortions). Note, for one, the escalating attacks throughout the piece: children are taught teachers are "underpaid" in the first clause, then that "teachers' pay should be doubled," and finally that "teachers should be paid as much as NFL quarterbacks." Similar patterns emerge regarding teaching about God (from "God is irrelevant" to "God is a homophobe"), condoms, the government, and homosexuals. Such a deluge naturally creates strong associations between otherwise unrelated ideas: what, for example, do taxes have to do with the environmental ethic of Native Americans? Bowles merely uses education as an excuse to link all sorts of targets to each other while attaching strong, negative associations to those ideas and the "liberal ideologues" who she claims are teaching our children.

That this piece has made it into print in at least two papers (the Washington Times and the Daily Oklahoman) says volumes - none of it good - about our political discourse. Landslides of jargon like this do nothing but bury reasonable debate.

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8/2 - Brendan: Hastert flack suggests Speaker cynical on health care (permanent link)
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In a column on GOPUSA.com yesterday, Pete Jeffries, the Communications Director of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), suggests that Hastert is trying to pass a compromise patient's bill of rights to "diffuse it as a campaign issue". Here is the quote in context:

Whether the media elite admits it or not, [yesterday's compromise on the patient's bill of rights between Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) and President Bush] is a win-win-win for all parties involved:
...Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) wins because he has worked behind-the-scenes for the last ten years to get health care reform passed in the House and signed into law in order to diffuse it as a campaign issue (emphasis added).

Compare this to Hastert's official statement on the compromise, included in the same article:

Having worked on the health care issue for the last ten years, I am delighted that we have found a way to get a bill to the floor that the President can sign. I commend Charlie Norwood and President Bush for their willingness to put patients first in this debate. We still have a long road to travel, but we are finally on the right path to a balanced approach to health care reform. We should not put trial lawyers first. We should not put HMO's first. We should put patient's [sic] first and this hard-fought compromise gets us to that position.

Jeffries's statement lends credence to the argument that the Republican leadership is publicly proclaiming its belief in protecting patients, while trying to pass a watered-down bill to provide political cover against Democratic attacks.

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Related links:
-Lies, damned lies and spin (Ben Fritz, 7/2)

8/1 - Ben: Kuttner's fuzzy memory on tax rebates (permanent link)
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Spin or just bad memory?

Not to sound cynical, but it seems reasonable to assume that a policy wonk like Robert Kuttner, editor of the liberal magazine The American Prospect, wouldn't forget his views on tax policy in just six months. We're forced to conclude, therefore, that Kuttner may be engaging in a bit of spin in order to frame Republican President George Bush as the bad guy.

In a recent article on the Prospect's web site entitled "Thank You, Mr. President" (July 25), Kuttner thanks Bush for helping to double The Prospect's circulation by pursuing conservative policies. At the end of his faux note, however, Kuttner adds a list of liberal non-profits to which he recommends readers give their tax rebate.

"Let the President know he didn't buy your vote!" he entreats. "Donate your tax rebate to these organizations that Bush wouldn't want you to support."

Now that's he's drumming up support for his magazine and his favorite interest groups, Kuttner apparently thinks the tax rebate portion of the Bush tax cut - which is essentially an up-front payment on the reduction in the lowest marginal rate from 15 percent to 10 percent - is little more than a bribe. In a February 5 article on the Prospect's site, however, he seemed to have had a different take on things:

The liberal Economic Policy Institute has proposed a one-time tax rebate of around $500 for every man, woman, and child. This would give the softening economy a constructive jolt but without locking in permanently reduced tax rates. It would also put money in pockets that need it, rather than giving millions to millionaires.

The EPI proposal was slightly different in that it was a rebate for all, not just those with federal income tax liability, but it is still a very similar policy. And Kuttner's interest in a rebate-type tax proposal wasn't just a one-time deal. In a February 26 online column, Kuttner included "a more generous tax rebate for working families" in his list of alternatives to the Bush tax cut, which, he claimed, would primarily benefit the wealthy. Again, this doesn't necessarily mean he wanted a rebate exactly like the one that was enacted, but it makes it extremely difficult for him to paint that as a political bribe.

It certainly makes sense that, under most circumstances, the liberal Kuttner would support a rebate like the $300 going out to every taxpayer this summer - a policy first proposed by liberal Democrats - as such a policy is both progressive and a Keynesian stimulus to the slumping economy. Maybe he simply forgot in his rush to encourage his more affluent readers to give their rebates to liberal non-profits. Or maybe he's just taking a cynical cheap shot at President Bush. We'll leave that up to you.

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Related links:
-Kuttner's Tax Increase Euphemism (Brendan Nyhan, 6/5)

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