Like flies attracted to garbage, it seems that we Americans have less time for the real issues and for digging out the facts than we have for listening to unsubstantiated claims and political slogans…
September 13, 2008 — The latest hullabaloo over Barack Obama’s use of the “lipstick on a pig” phrase during a recent campaign speech is clear evidence to me that Americans are less interested in facts and issues and more impressed with myth and even outright lies told by the party of their particular persuasion.
Com’on, folks… Obama wasn’t alluding to Governor Sarah Palin and the pit-bull joke she made at the Republican national convention. Her’s was a great speech that resonated with millions of like-thinking voters and helped to give a significant “bounce” in the polls for the Republican ticket this year. There’s no denying that. But, if you listened to Obama’s speech, you would know that he was talking about Senator McCain’s proposed economic policy when he uttered this common phrase. He wasn’t talking about Governor Palin. This same phrase, by the way, was used by Senator McCain no less than three different times in his campaign earlier this year when speaking about Senator Clinton’s proposals for a national health care program.
Like flies attracted to garbage, it seems that we Americans have less time for the real issues and for digging out the facts than we have for listening to unsubstantiated claims and political slogans like No Child Left Behind, Straight Talk Express, and Change Is Coming. Gee, that one sounds familiar.
Many of us, it seems to me, care more about wedge-issues like gun control, immigration, abortion, or the gender, race or religion of a candidate than we do about larger the issues like the economy and national security. We support whichever party claims to champion our heart-felt causes, usually the same party our parents have supported, then we believe unfailingly in whatever other claims our parties make. According to the Pew Research Center, social status and religious backgrounds influence American political persuasions more than reason.
I don’t often read articles in the ContinUUm, a magazine that my alma mater, the University of Utah, sends to me every month hoping that I will contribute to their Alumni Fund. But the most recent edition had some interesting articles in it about the state of our nation’s health care system. Thumbing through the pages one morning this week while sipping my first cup of coffee, one particular article just jumped out and grabbed me. It was written by a fellow alumnus, Carl R. Summers. Carl, who graduated ten years after me, is a scientist today working as a researcher with the Defense and Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed Hospital. But his article wasn’t about brain injuries. It was about political myths. His hobby being statistics, he decided that a scientific look at real numbers might help to substantiate or debunk some of our two major parties’ basic claims… Interesting. Very interesting indeed.
You can find more on the actual numbers that Carl crunched and the methodologies he used on-line in a series of articles he has published at OutsidersDC (www.outsidersdc.com).
We are told that the Republican Party is the party of business and small government, lower taxes and reduced government regulation. The Democratic Party, we are reminded over and over again by Republican Party politicians and right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, is the party of big government, high taxes, big give-away spending, and bleeding-heart, wasteful social programs for the down and out. Right? Well, if this is true, would it not follow then that the nation’s growth in output of goods and services, the real (adjusted for inflation) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be higher year after successive year during Republican rather than Democratic administrations? Wouldn’t it also follow that average taxes paid would be lower during Republican administrations and in years that Congress was controlled by the Republican Party? After all, Congress, not the President, has the most to say about taxes and spending. Shouldn’t we also expect less government spending by conservative lawmakers? In as much as every Republican administration since Reagan has embraced some form of the “trickle-down,” supply-side economic theory in formulating tax policies, shouldn’t everybody be better-off with more after-tax income to spend and shouldn’t there be more and better jobs?
Asking himself these questions, Carl looked at readily available data and scientifically compared the performance of Republicans and Democrats occupying the White House every year since 1950. He also looked at records on taxing and spending when each party had control of the Senate and House of Representatives. What he found was surprising, even to me, a “fiscal” conservative and teacher of economics. He discovered that the average real increase in GDP for Republicans was 2.8 percent per year. The average increase for Democrats was 4.4 percent. So, despite claims to the contrary, business performed 57 percent better on average under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.
What about unemployment? Remember, Democrats are supposed to be the party of the working class. Carl discovered that the average unemployment rate under Republican administrations has been 6.1 percent. That’s what the Bureau of Labor Statistics is currently reporting. Under Democratic administrations, the average was 5.1 percent. So, the Democratic claim is substantiated.
Carl asked himself — If the trickle-down theory has any validity, if lowering business taxes, capital gains, and individual income taxes on the wealthiest of Americans encourages investment and creates jobs (a rising tide lifting all boats), then shouldn’t this raise the value of corporations? Shouldn’t this be reflected by gains in broad stock indexes like the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and the Standard and Poor’s 500? To answer this issue, he looked at respected business data over the years and concluded that the average change, or increase in stock prices grew 7.4 percent during Republican administrations. Not too shabby, you say? Well, stock prices grew 10.4 during Democratic administrations. Furthermore, he noted that during Democratic years, the Dow showed relatively small, somewhat consistent ups and downs, what economists call normal business cycles. During Republican years, the Dow was, in his words, “… like a roller coaster ride with large, unpredictable peaks and valleys.”
On the issue of which party favors low taxes and which party favors high, Carl normalized “federal receipt” data by comparing it over the years as a percentage of real GDP. He did this to compen- sate for variations in the economy like inflation, population growth and tax policies. What he found out was that when Republicans were in the White House, government taxed at the rate of 18.9 percent of real GDP while, when Democrats were in the White House, government taxed at 19.1 percent. Yes, Democratic administrations did tax at a slightly higher rate, but the two-tenths of one percent difference, he says, is statistically too close to call. But remember, it is Congress, more so than the President, that controls our nation’s purse strings. In the years that Republicans controlled the Senate, government collected 18.5 of real GDP compared to 17.7 percent when Democrats ruled. In the House of Representatives, when Republicans ruled, government collected 18.7 compared to the same 17.7 percent when Democrats were in control. This difference is statistically relevant and it means that, after all these years of Republican claims about Democrats raising taxes, the reality is that taxes are almost exactly the same regardless of the President’s party, but they are actually higher when Republicans have control of the House and/or Senate.
Ok, you say, but what about spending? Well, treating expenditures the same way he did revenues, as a percent of our nation’s real GDP, Carl discovered that Republican administrations spent 20.2 percent while Democratic administrations spent significantly less, 19.2. This is a 5.2 percent difference, folks!
So, now you know. Based on fact rather than myth, the real tax-and-spend party has been… well, its mascot, like Pinocchio, has a prominent proboscis.
I invite your comments, pro or con.