Dec 17, 2010

Lies, misinformation, and the electorate

Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project that fact checks claims made by politicians and other public figures, has declared its 2010 "Lie of the Year." The  winner? The claim that the health care reform bill was a "government takeover of health care." Politifact points to the very important distinction between increasing regulation (which the law does) and a "takeover," highlighting the fact that health care reform actually strengthened private insurance companies by requiring people to buy their products.

On NPR this morning, Steve Inskeep played a clip of Texas governor Rick Perry outlining the longer version of the "takeover" argument. Here's the exchange:
Perry: "Forcing us all to buy health insurance from, you know, a Washington-devised program is faulty on its face, and I think unconstitutional."
Inskeep: "Oh, you're referring to the health care law which eventually will require just about everybody to buy health insurance, most likely from a private company, correct?"
Perry: "Yes, and I think it's set up to fail. The private companies will end up not being able to make a profit, they will fail, and then the government will take over." 

Basically, then, the logical conclusion of this argument is that our health care system, which is dominated by privately run insurance companies, is not sustainable. If we have a system in which those private companies will go bankrupt if everyone is actually insured, then we don't really have a system at all. Indeed, this morning the Center for American Progress reported on new data showing that in the past decade, the percent of Americans who have health insurance through their employers has dropped from 64% to 56%, which is the lowest percentage on record since the Census Bureau started tracking this data in 1987. To put that another way, 1 out of every 8 people who had employer-provided health care in 2000 no longer has it today.

Listen to the NPR story here. The Rick Perry clip starts at 3:45.

In completely related news, a new study out today finds that "voters were misinformed on key issues" during this year's elections. Only 8% of voters polled knew that economists in the Congressional Budget Office and elsewhere had determined that the stimulus plan created or saved a few million jobs. 12% think that climate change isn't happening and fully a third believe that scientists are "evenly divided" about whether it's real. 86% thought their taxes had gone up since 2009, probably because 54% didn't know that the stimulus plan included tax cuts.

And, as for where we're getting our news, here's some food for thought:

"Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)."

"There were cases with some other news sources as well. Daily consumers of MSNBC and public broadcasting (NPR and PBS) were higher (34 points and 25 points respectively) in believing that it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending money raised from foreign sources to support Republican candidates."

Oh, America. If there's one reason why we need to sustain quality, independent journalism and improve our schools so people have real critical thinking skills, I think this pretty much sums it up.

No comments:

Post a Comment