Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Politics of Stupid


What, me worry?

A politician can be forgiven a few miscues, after all he or she is trying to appeal to a large cross-section of voters and it is easy to get lost in his or her own rhetoric from time to time.  However, this presidential campaign looks like it will keep Politifact very busy.

The problem is that candidates don't seem to work from the same set of data.  They present conflicting reports, if they bother to do so at all, on everything from the Affordable Care Act to Climate Change.  It's not like this data can't be checked.  For matters concerning the government, we have the Government Accounting Office, or GAO, which is bipartisan.  For matters of science, we have a variety of esteemed sources to draw from.   But, if these facts don't play into your political message, they tend to be discarded, so the candidates will turn to other less reliable sources in an attempt to bolster their arguments.

So far, Ted Cruz has been the loosest with the facts, according to Politifact, which found him to be wrong a whopping 68% of the time.  True or mostly true a miserable 17% of the time.  But, Ted doesn't have to worry too much because the conservative echo chamber has gone out of its way to paint Politifact as a "liberal" institution, therefor not to be trusted.

This has proved very convenient for conservatives, who view any criticism coming from the "lamestream" media, as Sarah Palin fondly put it, as biased.  The only news source to be trusted is Fox News.  Yet, even on their favorite network, Republican candidates find themselves being called out by Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Juan Williams.  The most recent example was Chris Wallace taking Rick Santorum to task for questioning the Pope on global warming.  This normally friendly venue for conservative politicians has become a rather slippery slope for presidential wannabes.

It is nice to see Fox challenge these candidates, because many of them avoid the "lamestream" press out of fear of being grilled on their positions, which in most cases run counter to conventional wisdom.  Still, Fox gives these politicians far too much leeway to squirm out of their more contentious statements, giving Jeb Bush four tries to distance himself from his brother George on the Iraq War.  Now, Jeb seems to be standing by his father, not his brother on Foreign Policy.  We can only wish our teachers had allowed us so many make-up exams in high school.

In a long campaign, which will drag out until next summer's conventions, these candidates can only hope that the electorate will forget their early miscues and remember what they said last.  Unfortunately, as Mitt found out in 2012, it doesn't work that way.  There are rival campaigns who will remind you of each and every misstep along the way.  It's kind of like your mother correcting your version of a past event in front of your friends.  It can be quite embarrassing.  Mitt was never able to live down his 47% comment.



What these candidates seem to forget is that when you cater to the lowest common denominator of your political base, it is hard to effectively overcome these gaffes on a national stage.  This isn't a Congressional district race or even a State Senate of Governor's race.  This is a Presidential race in which you have to appeal to a broad cross-section of the country.

Knowing this, you would think presidential candidates would be more careful on the campaign trail.  Sadly, no.  You have compulsive liars like Ted Cruz and those who try to get away with one from time to time, thinking no one will call them on it.   After all, they can always say they misspoke, or blame the liberal press for taking their words out of context.




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