04 September 2012

lies, damn lies, and statistics

Update: After getting hammered in the press, the blog-o-sphere, and social media, the Ryan campaign through a spokesperson has partially retracted his comment. An aide said, "he misspoke." "Misspoke" is code for "got caught and could not take the heat" in American political speech. OK then.

I am emphatically not a fan of Congressman Ryan. In fact, I think that his selection is proof that the Republican party of my youth, the party of Goldwater, Eisenhower and my folks, is dead. The replacement is in my view, at worst national socialist, at best incompetent.

Recently Ryan said:

In 1980 under Jimmy Carter, 330,000 businesses filed for bankruptcy,” he said. “Last year, under President Obama’s failed leadership, 1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy.1

"Fact checkers" those partisans on one side or the other, busily dissect things like that claim. This morning on Facebook and elsewhere this is being added to the truly staggering number of lies associated with the Romney - Ryan ticket. That got me to digging a bit.

In fact, last year, there were slightly more than 1.4 million bankruptcy filings 2. Those filings however, where not representative of 1.4 million business failures as Mr. Ryan clearly wanted his hearers to think. That was the total for all filings for the year.

It gets worse from the perspective of someone claiming that Mr. Obama has failed. The number while substantial is down over 11% on a year to year basis. That suggests things are actually getting better! That Mr. Ryan wanted you to hear a very different, unsubstantial message and draw a different conclusion, appears obvious.

There in an interesting issue here. I do not think it is dishonesty in the sense of lying intentionally, albeit some of what both Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have been saying I think clearly falls in that category. This is I think a bit more subtle. Call it using a term libel lawyers coined, "reckless disregard of the truth." I am betting that Mr. Ryan and his staff simply looked at two numbers, and made them fit their polemic.

If anyone on the Ryan staff had looked at the numbers and the footnotes, he could have made a number of different, more honest observations. Thoughtful analysis however does not, "fire up the base" as the term of art now appears. Telling the whole truth is less effective than telling the half. What I wonder: is this intentional at the candidate level?

I should like to think that a candidate on a national ticket would not be so cynical as to disregard the clear direction of numbers, or to deliberately misquote a statistic. But then I look at the, "we built it" meme that dominated the RNC, and I am not so sure. The Republicans clearly know that Mr. Obama did not say business people had not built their companies, but rather was quoting someone else in regards to the common infrastructure. So perhaps they are that cynical.

If they are, as it appears, a ticket and two staffs that simply do not pay attention to the truth, who will say whatever their base wants to hear, that alone is a reason to vote for Mr. Obama. I have my own issues with the Obama administration, but I do not doubt that he and Mr. Biden are committed to telling the truth. Yes we can differ on things, yes I think that the on-going commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan are mistakes. But at least the administration is not guilty of petty and willful disregard of facts. That is orders of magnitude better than Mr. Ryan and his boss have shown themselves to be.

  1. Quoted in the New York Times 3 September 2012 by TRIP GABRIEL and KITTY BENNETT
  2. US Court Statistics

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