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Analyzing political analysis -Politifact and Bill O'Reilly

A word of warning - this blog has a bias. I am a pro-life, conservative, pro-family, pro-marriage wife and mother. I do not pretend otherwise.

Now wouldn't it be nice if every political analysis group came out and admitted that up front? Some do, but once in a while you have one that sort of wants to pretend neutrality while it leans, well, mostly left.

Politifact tends to do that, although a recent study found the following:

A February 2011 study published by the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics news site, a part of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, finds a significant bias on the part of PolitiFact in favor of statements made by Democrats: “That means a supermajority of falsehoods documented by PolitiFact over the last year – 76 percent – were attributed to Republicans, with just 22 percent of such statements coming from Democrats.”

A glance at the most recent PolitiFact ratings by the Oregonian would definitely support findings of a pro-Democrat bias.

This recent article on Politifact about the Poverty Rate is a good example of its liberal bias.  First of all, they are taking apart a comment made by Bill O'Reilly made on the Fox News Channel.  Both O'Reilly and Fox are clearly conservative  and don't pretend to be otherwise.  Last week, O'Reilly said:

"What the debt situation is really, really all about is your right to pursue happiness," O’Reilly said. "America is the greatest country on earth because it gives the most people the most opportunity to prosper. It does that by using the free marketplace whereby people can work hard, make money and provide for themselves and their families.

"But since the mid-1960s, America has practiced social engineering. Spending tax money directly, trying to improve the lives of those who don't have very much. Those payments are called entitlements. And they are now so high they threaten to bankrupt the entire nation. Liberal Americans tend to support the entitlement society while conservatives are more inclined to promote individualism and smaller entitlement spending.

"President (Barack) Obama, of course, is a liberal. And the Democratic Party is now dominated by the left. That's why in the past two and a half years federal spending has broken the bank. ...

"The essential mistake that Barack Obama is making is that he believes Lyndon Johnson's Great Society entitlements can elevate the poor to prosperity. They can't. In 1965, the poverty rate in this country stood at 14 percent. Now, after untold trillions have been spent fighting poverty, the poverty rate is 14.3 percent. Amazing, is it not? The conclusion, America is bankrupting itself with an entitlement philosophy that does little."
Politifact says that this assertion that the poverty rate has stayed about the same is false.  But on reading the Politifact article I wonder if they didn't actually prove O'Reilly's point:

Politifact says: • He uses the wrong numbers. The poverty rate -- the percentage of Americans whose income is lower than the federally determined poverty line -- was 17.3 percent in 1965, not 14 percent. For 2009, O’Reilly is correct -- the rate was 14.3 percent.

So if you compare the poverty rate in those two years, it has fallen by 3 percentage points, or by about one-sixth its original level. It didn’t stay roughly constant, as O’Reilly claimed.

Well, he really didn't say it was constant.  Still if it was 17.3 in 1965 and it is now 14 or so, that's not very good progress to have in over 46 years! 

But I got a good chuckle over this:
 The poverty rate has fallen even further if you start counting a few years before the Great Society began. Between 1959 and 1962, the poverty rate ranged between 20 and 22 percent. If you compare that level to 2009, poverty declined by an even steeper rate -- by more than one-third.

So if we say the poverty rate was 22 in 1962 and fell to 17 in 1965, that's a drop of 5 points in three years - so couldn't we surmise that the poverty rate was dropping faster and further before the government programs started to interfere?

I found this troubling as well:
Gary Burtless, an economist with the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution, cautions that O’Reilly’s comment overlooks the actual purpose of the Great Society programs, which wasn’t to boost incomes directly, in a way that would be detectable in poverty statistics, but rather to "improve the health care, nutrition and educational attainment or performance of Americans."

If the programs were successful, Burtless said, "it was because they improved the health care received by the old and poor, they improved the schooling received by disadvantaged youngsters and they improved the nutritional quality of the diets of the poor. These programs may eventually have reduced ‘money poverty,’ but only if improving medical care, educational attainment and nutritional intake has an indirect effect that reduces money poverty."

This is an admission that the goal wasn't to really raise people out of poverty to but to make them dependent on the government for health care, education and food. 

Politifact ends their article with:
O’Reilly said the Great Society programs did nothing to reduce poverty, but we rule that claim False.
This is a false premise fallacy because O'Reilly didn't say the programs did "nothing to reduce poverty."  Clearly they did a lot- it was their effectiveness that he was calling into question. 

The did get this part right:

This is not to say that O’Reilly is entirely wrong. Present levels of entitlements may not be sustainable, as he suggests. O’Reilly might be right that relatively few of the poor have been lifted into "prosperity," as opposed to somewhere slightly above the poverty line. And the final 14 percent of Americans may be the most difficult to lift out of poverty, suggesting that at some point the cost-benefit ratio for anti-poverty expenditures may become harder to defend.

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