Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sublime Bloviations: "PolitiFlub: 'Effortless promise-keeping by the president'"

Sometimes, PFB editor Bryan White laments, he can't believe his eyes when he reads various PolitiFact stories. Thus begins his latest review of PolitiFact's most recent "Obameter" rating.

PolitiFact's latest gift to our 44th president came in the form of the coveted "Promise Kept" rating regarding Obama's campaign promise to "...establish a 10 percent federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require that 10 percent of electricity consumed in the U.S. is derived from clean, sustainable energy sources, like solar, wind and geothermal by 2012."

With Cap and Trade legislation bogged down and unlikely to pass, how did the Commander in Chief manage to fulfill his promise to require greater reliance on green energy sources? PolitiFact intern David G. Taylor lays out how the campaign commitment was committed:
We spoke with the [sic] Christina Kielich of the U.S. Department of Energy press office. She told us that the United States receives approximately 11 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. This breaks down to about 6 percent from hydroelectricity, 3 percent from wind, and approximately 1% each from solar, biomass, and geothermal. Thus, in 2011 - one year head [sic] of Obama"s promise, the United States has already reached more than the 10 percent renewable level.
Holy Pulitzer Prize, Batman! Not only is Obama actually exceeding the 10% he campaigned on, he's a full year ahead of schedule!

But faster than you can say "non-partisan", Bryan points out the flaw:
In case it isn't clear what is going on here, Taylor is substituting a new promise for the old promise. The old promise was that the president would require 10 percent of U.S. energy to come from renewable sources. The new promise is that the U.S. will produce at least 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources. The latter promise is a tad like my personal promise that the sun will come up tomorrow. When the sun appears, my promise is kept. Did I do anything to help it along? Not at all.

As bad as it would be to credit the president with keeping a promise which required nothing of him, the real problem stems from the fact that Obama's promise was one of action. He would establish a requirement. Taylor's story provides no evidence of the establishment of any sort of requirement.
In other words, the amount of energy the U.S. is currently producing, or acquiring, from renewable sources is irrelevant to and independent of Obama's promise to create a renewable energy standard.

Long time PolitiFact followers might note that this is hardly the first time they've granted Obama a positive grade for something he never actually did. Back in 2009 they rated a chain email "Half True" for the claim that Obama "closed off shore tax safe havens." In that rating, Obama had simply proposed legislation that would close off shore tax havens. As the rating noted:
Although the legislation enjoys the support of the White House, it is likely to face strong opposition from corporations that do considerable business overseas....In other words, it's premature to put this one in the "Obama Accomplishments" column.
But why let a little technicality like actually being enacted stop you from putting it in the "Obama Accomplishments" column anyway? Besides, it's not like he's a Republican:
Just as we rate Obama"s [sic] promises kept only when they were passed by Congress and signed into law, we will rate Republican promises not just on whether they pass the House, but whether they are ultimately enacted.
Had Taylor simply followed PolitiFact's own guidelines, he would have realized his Promise Kept rating was dubious just by looking up the date Obama's 10% renewable energy source requirement was "passed by Congress" and "ultimately enacted". Instead, we're left with a gross double standard, and another solid example of PolitiFact's war on objectivity.

Bryan has more issues with the rating that I didn't get into here. As always, read the whole article.

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