Obi-Wan Kenobi said it best:
Luke: Ben! Why didn’t you tell me? You told me that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
Obi-Wan: Your father… was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and “became” Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.
Luke: A certain point of view?
Obi-Wan: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
“what I told you was true… from a certain point of view”
“many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”
There’s truth and then there’s facts. Facts can be used to manipulate the truth to create new truths. This is what campaigning is based on. The proliferation of economic data has made it even worse in the age of the internet. As campaign staffers learn from people like me how to find data and craft it into a “truthy” story, there are other people out there like me bringing out the actual truth. However it’s likely rare that the intended audience of the “truthy” stories ever see the actual truth.
Thankfully we’ll explore some facts today and see how our politicians use them to create their stories.
Let’s look at the Obama campaign’s view of Mitt Romney:
“Fact” 1: Under Romney’s leadership, Massachusetts manufacturing declined by double the national rate, and was the third-worst overall in the country.
That is a fact. And it certainly tells a certain story that Romney is bad for jobs especially manufacturing jobs. But it is not a truth. Under Romney, MA’s job growth ranking went from 50th in the year before he took office to 28th in the final year, averaging 47th. It’s clear that the truth is under Romney the state’s job situation improved dramatically. An Obama ad also talks about Romney losing 40k manufacturing jobs in the state. But MA lost more in the 4 years before Romney and 4 years after than the 4 years he actually served.
“Fact” 2: As governor, Romney increased taxes and fees by as much as $750 million per year
That is a fact. Again not the actual truth of the story they’re trying to tell (that Romney just increases taxes). Romney was dealing with a fully democratic legislature in Massachusetts. So in order to pass any legislation of his own design he likely had to pass legislation he didn’t fully agree with. In fact, he tried to cut the income tax many times for everyone but was shut down by the legislature.
Now Obama’s people aren’t the only ones that play this game of course. Romney’s team is in the same league:
“Fact” 1: Government at all levels now constitutes 38% of the economy, and if Obamacare is installed, it will reach almost 50%.
Romney’s people are implying that Obamacare will account for all that increase. That’s a falsehood. If you add up all government spending and all healthcare spending then you get to 50%. The Romney campaign assumed the government would control all healthcare spending under Obamacare.
“Fact” 2: President Obama proposes to raise the tax on small business.
The first problem with this statement is the implication that a tax on small business exists. There isn’t. Romney is only talking about Obama allowing the Bush cuts to expire. Obama only wants them to expire for the highest income earners. Very few small businesses would be affected by this. The definition of small business varies considerably, but no one thinks about a business clearing $250k for the owner alone as really being all that small.
Every side is going to tell their version of a story and create their own truths. Some voters want to know what the real truth is. But most are just looking for more reasons to like the one the want in, and hate the one they want to keep out.
Special thanks to Factcheck.org for providing the “truth” busting material here and here. Interestingly, both campaigns have referenced the site to debunk their opponent. Neither note they have been debunked themselves.