A Note on Politifact’s Lie of the Year

Several people have commented on Politifact’s Lie of the Year 2011: ‘Republicans voted to end Medicare’ being not a lie but an actually true statement.  You can see Steve Benen, Jonathan Cohn, Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein for more.  Paul Waldman called this early.

I want to amplify something others have brought up.  Politifact had to understand that they were going to get pushback on this, so they must have been careful in justifying their assertion with the strongest terms possible.  How do they do that?  Here are the three reasons for why this is a lie instead of an actually true statement:

 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.

Read the first and third point again.  Democrats are in the wrong when they attack the plan for its effects on seniors, because current seniors won’t be impacted.  They show ads with elderly people, but no current elderly people will fact the Ryan plan.

If anything was to show how much certain elite media go along with the Republican thought that the social safety net is only for people born in 1956 or earlier, while everyone else is on their own, this is it.  Because I’m a senior-in-waiting, and this plan will affect me.  Someday I’ll be elderly, and then I’ll have to deal with taking a worthless coupon to the notoriously ugly healthcare market if this plan passes.  This is not semantics – it’s the basis of the inter-generational social contract.  But in the worldview of Politifact, as long as the Great Society’s social insurance plan is there for people born in 1956 or earlier, it exists for everyone.

Mark Schmitt wrote a great piece earlier this year on the GOP’s brilliant generational weapon in the Medicare fight:

 …But the line they chose is more than a gimmick: The 55-and-over cutoff marks a sharp and significant generational divide.  Those over 55 will continue to benefit from one of the triumphs of social insurance in the Great Society, while the rest of us will be on our own, with a coupon for private health insurance….The Ryan plan, in other words, delivers to the older generation exactly what they’ve had all their lives—secure and predictable benefits—and to the next generation, more of what they’ve known—insecurity and risk.

Someone born in 1957 would graduate high school in 1975 – right when real incomes flatten, the poverty rates stops declining and health insurance coverage stops increasing, while the boom in inequality is right around the corner.  If anything, this generation needs more, not less, security in old age.

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6 Responses to A Note on Politifact’s Lie of the Year

  1. Samme says:

    Good blog. However, it would be better if you’d use the correct vocabulary rather than contribute to the illiteracization of your readers; you wrote: “Because I’m a senior-in-waiting, and this plan will effect me.” Did you not exist prior to this plan? It will not “effect” you; it will “Affect” you. Cheers!

  2. expr says:

    I look at this as divide and conquer
    Old people vote for R’s since they get to keep their benefits and taxes go down
    A few years later, everyone else says “why should I pay Social Security/ Medicare taxes
    to support benefits I will not get and support R’s who promise to lower their taxes and put
    old people on the “new” “Medicare” system.

  3. Amen. The Ryan plan would have ended Medicare for those born after 1956. It would have stolen from the young to protect benefits for the old while not asking current beneficiaries to accept a reduction in benefit.

    > this generation [born in ’57 or later] needs more, not less, security in old age

    I’d worry more about those born a little later — after about 1975. Most of us born before that will be fine. We’ve lived our professional lives through a couple of booms and had a low tax burden all our lives. The generation we’re robbing is the one born after the mid-seventies. They’re excluded from most pension plans, likely to get less Medicare coverage, and those among them who find themselves earning a good living 5-10 years from now are very likely to face higher income tax rates. Those of us born before 1975 need to start being honest about the cost of the government benefits we’ve come to expect.

  4. Bernard says:

    using 1956 as the cutoff date! who choose that date and why. the capriciousness of power crazed deciding who will live and who will die.

    Death Panels

  5. NP says:

    I don’t understand the points you are making that make it a “lie”.
    1. Who cares whether or not it is only people under 55 now who are affected. People only get Medicare when they are 65 and over – and therefore are old. Why is it an important distinction to say Ryan is going to destroy Medicare in 10 years time – he is still going to destroy Medicare.
    2. Just because Ryan calls his voucher program Medicare does not make it Medicare as it exists now – he is planning to end the current program.
    3. Same point as number 1 – the DCCC were making the point that this is what Ryan’s plan would look like when it was enacted (i.e. in 10 years time) why is that so hard to understand?

  6. Aaron Lercher says:

    Yes, the Republicans are playing a generational card (against me among others). That’s extremely important.
    But the interesting question for me is (as a librarian I teach information literacy): What does Politifact, an important media organization, consider to be a fact and what does it consider to be a lie? Also, is their view on this representative of any significant group of views?
    Probably the most valuable part of what Medicare expenditures buy is the guarantee of access to healthcare. The guarantee is intangible, yet it is probably the most valuable part of the program, and that is precisely what Ryan would abolish.
    Politifact’s response to Sherrod Brown’s June 20, 2011 newsletter says, for example, “Changing the payment method is not the same as ending the entire program.” Some of Politifact’s other statements focus on the semantics of whether Medicare would still “exist” despite changing “significantly” or “dramatically,” or only “as we know it.” (This reminds me of Bill Clinton’s, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”) But this is dancing around the idea of intangible assets, such as the guarantee offered by Medicare.
    There are other very popular ideas in US politics that deny that intangible assets have value. The gold bugs’ denial that paper or fiat money bears value is another such idea.
    So here’s an answer to my question. Politifact has fallen for a confidence game that is very popular now. The game is this: Start with something you heavily rely on, and which is really quite reliable or at least as reliable as can be expected. US treasury bonds or Medicare are examples, or perhaps some reliable computer software. Then scare you into thinking it actually is unreliable. Then offer to sell you something that to you, now that you are good and scared, seems more reliable than the now seemingly unreliable asset.
    We might call this con, “Scareware.”
    So Politifact’s institutionalized skepticism is used against it, by getting it to deny that an intangible asset is really valuable, in this case the guarantee offered by Medicare, and this is representative of the current ideological climate.

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