Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Politifact's 2011 Lie of the Year: 'Republicans voted to end Medicare'

PolitiFact recently chose its 2011 "Lie of the Year" and it happens to be a statement that a lot of people are arguing is true. In a year stuffed full of gems like "The economic stimulus created 'zero jobs'" and "the vaccine to prevent HPV can cause mental retardation," the lie of the year is the Democratic claim that "Republicans voted to end Medicare."

Politifact:
Republicans muscled a budget through the House of Representatives in April that they said would take an important step toward reducing the federal deficit. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the plan kept Medicare intact for people 55 or older, but dramatically changed the program for everyone else by privatizing it and providing government subsidies.

Democrats pounced. Just four days after the party-line vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a Web ad that said seniors will have to pay $12,500 more for health care “because Republicans voted to end Medicare.” […]

PolitiFact debunked the Medicare charge in nine separate fact-checks rated False or Pants on Fire, most often in attacks leveled against Republican House members.

Now, PolitiFact has chosen the Democrats’ claim as the 2011 Lie of the Year.
As you can guess plenty of people are questioning Politifact's reasoning in this case. It's especially frustrating since Politifact basically said that Democrats would be factually correct "with a few small tweaks to their attack lines." There are three particular details Politifact takes issue with:
1. Democrats 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.

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

3. They used pictures and video of elderly people who clearly were too old to be affected by the Ryan plan.
Even though these are all valid concerns, this is still a pretty flimsy argument that basically boils down to semantics. Politifact's stance seems to rely mostly on the definition of the word "Medicare." If any type of assistance that helps senior citizens can be labeled as "Medicare," then the Democrats can never say Medicare is ending. I highly doubt most proponents and recipients of Medicare see it that way though.

Steve Benen:
It’s unnerving that we have to explain this again, but since PolitiFact appears to be struggling with the relevant details, let’s set the record straight.

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.

It seems foolish to have to parse the meaning of the word “end,” but if there’s a program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program. That’s what the verb means.

...Indeed, reading through PolitiFact’s defense of its dubious honor, the explanation is effectively a semantics argument — its Lie of the Year, the editors argue, didn’t include the caveats and context that would make it more accurate. But let’s not forget, there were actual, demonstrable, unambiguous lies among the finalists for Lie of the Year. PolitiFact overlooked all of them.
Paul Krugman:
Republicans voted to replace Medicare with a voucher system to buy private insurance — and not just that, a voucher system in which the value of the vouchers would systematically lag the cost of health care, so that there was no guarantee that seniors would even be able to afford private insurance.

The new scheme would still be called “Medicare”, but it would bear little resemblance to the current system, which guarantees essential care to all seniors.

How is this not an end to Medicare? And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the “Lie of the year”?

The answer is, of course, obvious: the people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they’ve bent over backwards to appear “balanced” — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.

Way to go, guys.
John Hudson:
Responding to critics today, PolitiFact editor Bill Adair tells Politico it's not alone in calling out Democrats on this. "It's worth noting that both FactCheck.org and Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post have also rated the claim false," he said. "I appreciate and respect the feedback we're getting and I recognize that our readers won't always agree with our conclusions."

Still that hasn't stopped liberals from seeing this as a move to appear objective and bipartisan at the expense of telling the truth. "It’s pretty clear that drawing complaints from liberals is basically the point here," writes Chait. "PolitiFact is a group that requires roughly equal criticism from right and left in order to maintain its credibility."
If the "lie of the year" requires so much rationalization, then I have a hard time thinking it's probably the worse lie out there. Really this just seems like a way to get people talking about PolitiFact and appease critics on the right. And that kind of defeats the point doesn't it?

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