Saturday, April 23, 2011

PFB Smackdown: The TPM critique of PolitiFact

Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo joins the fray with his own critique of PolitiFact.  Marshall's critique, like that of Jonathan Chait reviewed here earlier, focuses on PolitiFact's grading of a Democratic Party ad attacking Republican policy on Medicare.  And even more specifically, Marshall criticizes the portions of a recent post at Columbia Journalism Review (also reviewed here) that mostly defended PolitiFact's reasoning while questioning the rating system itself.

Did Republicans vote to 'end Medicare'?
Err, not really. As already mentioned, Republicans did not, as the ad suggests, vote to end Medicare. Rather, they voted--in the lower house--for a plan that would change Medicare, were it to reach the president's desk and be signed into law. Which it won't. The ad mentions none of this, instead leaving its bold claim hanging like a piñata for PolitiFact's batsmen.
'End Medicare' is the heart of the question. And as I've already repeatedly noted, ending a program that functions in one way (single-payer guaranteed medical insurance regardless of health status) with one that works in a fundamentally different manner (provide limited subsidies for private insurance which would quite possibly not exist for many seniors) and doesn't provide anything like the same service by any definition counts as 'ending' the program regardless of whether you give the latter program the same label. But look at the reasoning in the excerpt. One of the reasons the claim isn't 'true' apparently is because only the House voted for it so far, not the Senate. And the President would still have to sign it. And he probably won't. So since it likely won't become law in this Congress, House Republicans aren't even really voting to do it.

By that standard, Bernie Sanders doesn't really support single-payer because it's never going to become law.
 Let's look at Marshall's reasoning regarding the reasoning from PolitiFact and CJR.

"End Medicare" may be the heart of the question as Marshall says, but "vote to" is a big part of the claim as well--probably the bigger part of the claim since it constitutes the action supposedly taken without which "end Medicare" doesn't happen.

Marshall argues that Medicare under Ryan would be "fundamentally different" from Medicare, but isn't clear that private Medicare insurance is "fundamentally different" than Medicare single-payer insurance, contrary to what Marshall seems to contend.  Both, after all, qualify as insurance.  And suppose we cut Medicare funding under the present system to 10 percent of what Ryan's plan would pay.  Would Marshall argue that Medicare ceases to be Medicare at some point on the money/benefit continuum?  Or did Medicare stop being Medicare the moment it started paying for hip replacements?  Marshall doesn't delve into the principle, leaving his argument akin to a "slippery slope" argument.  Medicare is fundamentally a health insurance program for the elderly.  The name, in fact, is meant to express that idea and when it was coined Medicare was a far more limited program than it is today.  Marshall then extends the argument by suggesting that Medicare under Ryan "doesn't provide anything like the same service by any definition," but that's just hyperbole if he isn't simply lying. Marshall's case ultimately rests on his opinion.

Marshall also attacks the CJR for reasoning the bill will not reach the Senate.  But he apparently misunderstands the situation.  The bill the House passed is non-binding.  So even if the Senate passed it and the president signed it (which never happens with concurrent resolutions), it wouldn't carry the force of law.  Binding bills do that.

Marshall's argument is ridiculous.  I suppose he can try to blame Joel Meares of CJR for not explaining the details, but I consider Meares within his rights to assume a decent level of civics knowledge for his readers.

April 26, 2011:  Changed "Democrat Party" to "Democratic Party" in the opening paragraph.

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