Tuesday, June 8, 2021

PolitiFact turns incoherent Obama statement into "Half True" claim


Remember President Obama the constitutional scholar?
Here, the constitutional scholar makes the ability of 30 percent of the U.S. population to control a majority of Senate seats conditional on filibuster reform.

It's a completely preposterous argument, yet somehow PolitiFact arranges the tea leaves so they spell out "Half True."

As for what Obama got wrong, PolitiFact admits it only obliquely (bold emphasis added):

In the transcript of the interview with Klein, this passage about the filibuster included a link to a Washington Post analysis of the differences between population and representation in the Senate. However, the Post article doesn’t precisely support what Obama said. 


While the article’s conclusion is generally consistent with Obama’s point, it doesn’t have anything to do with the filibuster or the 60-vote threshold to end one. Rather, the article looked at representation throughout the entire chamber.

PolitiFact tries to make it "Obama's point" that Senate can magnify the power of small populations. But that wasn't really Obama's point. Obama was arguing for filibuster reform.

There is no filibuster reform that changes that basic feature of the Senate. Obama's argument doesn't even count as coherent.

PolitiFact makes a great show of explicating Obama's claim that "30 percent of the population potentially controls the majority of Senate seats." But that's true regardless of the filibuster. We could keep 1,000 people in each of 49 states and have everybody else move to Alaska. That would give a tiny percentage of the U.S. population a supermajority of Senate seats.

So what? There's no argument for filibuster reform in there.

One might use the above scenario to argue for changing the Constitution itself to make it more democratic. But we would hope that somebody would remember that the undemocratic features in the U.S. Constitution were put there deliberately, specifically because the framers considered democracy in the form of popular rule an exceptionally bad form of government. That's why they set up a republic with a federalist system dividing up political power in a variety of ways.

Watch PolitiFact argue Obama's point was something other than filibuster reform (bold emphasis added):

(W)e crunched the numbers from the 2020 Census and concluded that Obama’s overall point had merit but that he misstated the details.

In particular, Obama said that states with a small percentage of the population could control "the majority of Senate seats." Given today’s partisan tendencies in each state, controlling an actual majority of seats would not be feasible for that small a percentage. However, a small percentage of the population could control enough seats to successfully wield the filibuster, which effectively gives them control over whether a majority can pass legislation.

As illustrated above, a small percentage of the population could potentially wield a supermajority in the Senate. It has nothing to do with the filibuster, and the need for filibuster reform was Obama's point.

Check out PolitiFact's summary version of Obama's point:

Obama said, "The filibuster, if it does not get reformed, still means that maybe 30% of the population potentially controls the majority of Senate seats."

In the Senate’s current makeup, senators representing 29% to 39% of the U.S. population would be sufficient to mount a filibuster and block a vote on legislation, in a sense controlling what can be passed in the chamber.

In the first paragraph PolitiFact relates what Obama actually said. In the second paragraph PolitiFact translates what he said into something completely different. "Majority of Senate seats" turns magically into the number of seats needed to successfully filibuster.

Obama's argument was elaborate window-dressing for the real and truthful argument for filibuster reform: "If we change the filibuster we can pass more of the legislation we want to pass." That statement could earn a "True" from PolitiFact, eh?

It was completely ridiculous for Obama to try to suggest filibuster reform would affect the constitutional ability of small-population states to potentially control a majority of Senate seats. The one is independent of the other. That leaves Obama's true point, the supposed need for filibuster reform, without any coherent support.

It was nice of PolitiFact to overlook that fact in rating Obama's spurious argument "Half True."

It's flatly false that the filibuster, reformed or not, allows a minority population to control a majority of Senate seats. That's a feature of the Constitution, not the filibuster.

A constitutional scholar ought to know that.

Correction June 8, 2021: Removed a redundant "the" from "and the the need for filibuster reform." Hat tip to the the Eye Creatures.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks to commenters who refuse to honor various requests from the blog administrators, all comments are now moderated. Pseudonymous commenters who do not choose distinctive pseudonyms will not be published, period. No "Anonymous." No "Unknown." Etc.