Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And now, the Lie of the Year

Congratulations, Politifact. You are responsible for the Lie of the Year by having selected on December 20 'Republicans Voted to End Medicare' as the 2011 Lie of the Year.

In retrospect, it was predictable. (So why didn't I predict it? Oh, never mind). On December 6, the American Prospect's Paul Waldman reasoned

Giving the "Lie of the Year" award to Republicans three years in a row would just invite too much criticism from the right, and if there's one thing the right is good at, it's screaming at journalists about "liberal bias." So my bet is that they're going to go with the contention that Paul Ryan's budget plan "ends Medicare," which has the benefit of being an important assertion repeated many times, despite the fact that it's actually not a lie at all (but that's a discussion for another day).

The following day, Dave Weigel flagged an e-mail sent by Paul Ryan (R-WI) to his PAC, arguing

Politifact, a non-partisan, fact-checking website, is now taking votes for the 2011 “Lie of the Year,” and one of the nominees is the Democrats’ “Pants on Fire” lie about Republicans voting to “end Medicare.”
Click here to vote now and ensure the Democrats’ lies about the Path to Prosperity are exposed.
Remember, our budget is the only plan that actually saves Medicare. We know the stakes are high in 2012 – it’s a chance to take our country back and get us back on a path to prosperity. We can’t let lies by Democrats about our conservative solutions go unchecked.
Help me fight the lies, falsehoods, and attacks of the Left by casting a vote to show the Democrat’s lie that Republicans voted to “end Medicare” is the worst political lie of 2011.Click here to cast your vote now at Politifact.

Lending credence to the idea that Politifact was intimidated by charges of "liberal bias," Politifact charged Democrats and liberals overreached," which normally would be insufficient to reach the level of "pants on fire" or "lie of the year." However, The Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway, in an article roundly critical of the art of fact-checking, slammed Politifact as biased toward Democrats. The following day, Politifact would say of those Democrats and liberals:

• They ignored the fact that the Ryan plan would not affect people currently in Medicare -- or even the people 55 to 65 who would join the program in the next 10 years.

• They used harsh terms such as "end" and "kill" when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system.

• They used pictures and video of elderly people who clearly were too old to be affected by the Ryan plan. The DCCC video that aired four days after the vote featured an elderly man who had to take a job as a stripper to pay his medical bills.

Medicare is not a private system; it is not a system of vouchers, which the Ryan budget plan would have established. Currently, the government acts as insurer for elderly people by paying the major medical bills. As Steve Benen explained, Medicare "is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican budget plan intended to privatize the existing system and replace it with something very different — a voucher scheme. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare." (Here, Media Matters thoroughly debunks Politico's claim that Paul Ryan's plan would not have ended Medicare. )

There is a good reason the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad (below) slammed ineffectually by Politico used elderly people: it is elderly people who would have been harmed by the GOP plan. Not the old persons of today- but those who would be old when the plan kicked in. If the Democrats had used young people in the ad, the message would have been confusing, indeed misleading; and Politico presumably would have slammed them for trying to scare youth in an ad pertaining to health insurance for individuals 65 years of age and older.

In its original analysis of the Democrats' claim, Politifact conceded "The Republicans voted on a budget resolution that states policy preferences, but the vote did not actually change Medicare, much less end it. As we’ve noted before in previous fact-checks, budget resolutions are non-binding documents that cannot be viewed as the equivalent of legislation that establishes law." But as Jed Lewison noted, "the ad did not Republicans of actually accomplishing their goal of ending Medicare. It accused them of 'voting to end Medicare.' In other words, it accused them of stating a policy preference." By Politico's logic, "if Republicans had voted to replace the FBI with a voucher program giving citizens subsidies to pay for private investigators, it would have been inaccurate to say they had 'ended the FBI.'"

As Paul Krugman quipped months ago about the Ryan Medicare plan, "you could also call an onion a rose. But a non-rose by the same name would not smell as sweet." Benen, though, following Poltifiact's designation, came up with the best analogy:

.... imagine someone owns a Ferrari. It’s expensive and drives beautifully, and the owner desperately wants to keep his car intact. Now imagine I took the car away, removed the metallic badge off the trunk that says “Ferrari,” I stuck it on a golf cart, and I handed the owner the keys.

“Where’s my Ferrari?” the owner would ask.

“It’s right here,” I’d respond. “This has four wheels, a steering wheel, and pedals, and it says ‘Ferrari’ right there on the back.”

By PolitiFact’s reasoning, I haven’t actually replaced the car — and if you disagree, you’re a pants-on-fire liar.


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