Wednesday, August 7, 2013

PFB Smackdown: Paul Krugman on PolitiFact and Eric Cantor

On August 4 this past week, PolitiFact rated "Half True" Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) statement that the nation faced an "ultimate problem" of a "growing deficit."  Liberals apparently think this is the latest evidence that PolitiFact is overcompensating for the dishonesty of Republicans.  As usual, the evidence can't bear the weight of claims like this one from noted partisan hack and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman of The New York Times:
News organizations in general, and PolitiFact in particular, are set up to deal with a world in which both parties generally respect reality, and in which dishonesty and delusion are roughly equally distributed between the parties. Faced with the highly asymmetric reality, they choke — treating mild Democratic exaggerations as if they were equivalent to outright falsehoods on the other side, treating wild misrepresentations on the GOP side as if they were slight misstatements.
Why did PolitiFact rate Cantor's statement "Half True"?  PolitiFact noted that Cantor referred to a growing deficit.  Yet right now the deficit is shrinking, and is expected to continue shrinking for a few more years before it starts heading back up.  Cantor received a "Half True" because the ultimate projected trend is a rising deficit.

Krugman erupted:
[H]ere we have a senior GOP official talking as if we lived in an alternative universe in which deficits are rising, not falling. And PolitiFact declares his statement half true.
Krugman, unsurprisingly, objects to PolitiFact's ruling because, perceived from his Keynesian soapbox, Cantor's rhetoric risks keeping the U.S. from keeping its deficits high enough to keep our economy healthy.

The Keynesian soapbox serves as a poor vantage point for judging either Cantor or PolitiFact.

In context, Cantor obviously was talking about the long view.  It's no secret that over the long term, entitlement spending figures to dominate federal government outlays.

The Congressional Budget Office puts it like this:
The explosive path of federal debt under the extended alternative fiscal scenario underscores the need for major changes in current policies to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course.
Even Paul Krugman knows that running a deficit adds to the debt.  So there should be no problem at all understanding Cantor's point:
CANTOR: Here is the problem. What we need to have happen is leadership on the part of this president and White House to come to the table finally and say, we're going to fix the underlying problem that's driving our deficit. We know that is the entitlement programs and unfunded liability that they are leaving on this generation and the next.
Got that?  "This generation and the next."  Cantor's talking about the long term budget implications of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.  The recent decrease in the deficit has approximately zero to do with that structural deficit problem.  Krugman completely misses it.  PolitiFact mostly misses it.

This case provides no evidence of PolitiFact going easy on a Republican in an effort to appear fair.  It's a case of PolitiFact failing to pay attention to context and treating a Republican too harshly.  PolitiFact's recent ruling on President Obama's claim that the minimum wage is lower today than when President Reagan took office serves as an instructive comparison.  The minimum wage is obviously higher today than in Reagan's time. Do Krugman and Rachel Maddow complain?  Not publicly, so far as we can tell.

Even though Mr. Obama did not suggest adjusting the figure for inflation, we think one rightly interprets his statement taking an inflation adjustment into account.  And Cantor ought to receive similar consideration in the form of paying attention to the context of his statement.

This is not a case of PolitiFact overcompensating to appear fair.  It's another case of PolitiFact allowing its liberal bias to put a thumb on the scale.

Have we mentioned that Paul Krugman is a partisan hack?

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