Truth in Politics ~ There is Such a Thing But It’s Rare

Some will refuse to believe the truth even when it lands on their heads with irrefutable facts to back it up.

October 4, 2010   Noticing my Bill White for Texas yard sign the other day, a neighbor asked whether I thought White has a chance in the upcoming race for governor.

“There’s always a chance,” was my answer. “It may not be a good chance, but I’d still be contributing to his campaign even if his chances were next-to-none.“  It’s time, I thought but didn’t say, for Rick Perry to go, for the gerrymandering in Texas to end, and for moderates and liberals too to have their voices heard again in this representative democracy of ours.

Coincidentally, the next day my wife suggested that I do some research and a blog article on whether Perry’s claim about Texas having a budget surplus this year owing to his conservative management policies (recession notwithstanding) is true. I thought about doing it for a while, but decided the issue is bigger than just one candidate’s single claim. Claims and counter-claims are flying back and forth in these final weeks before election day as fast as tennis balls over the net at a championship match.  Truth, after all, is relative, especially among politicians. There are half-truths, exaggerations built upon scant bases, and allegations based on suspicions that exploit people’s fears.

True, to borrow a line from the TV drama, X-Files, the truth is out there. But discerning what is true and what is not true is problematic. Some people don’t want to know the truth; some can’t make up their own minds and allow themselves to swayed by others’ opinions, and; some will refuse to believe the truth even when it lands on their heads with irrefutable facts to back it up.

Recognizing that all politicians are human, susceptible to the temptations of exaggerating and spinning facts to their advantage (which is not quite the same thing as calling all politicians liars – or is it), I decided, instead to tackle the bigger issue: Between the two candidates for governor of Texas this year, which is more prone to making unsubstantiated claims and which is more careful with the facts?

By the way, according to PolitiFact.com, Perry’s claim about Texas having a budget surplus this year is rated as “barley true”. Readers are encouraged to check this out for themselves at http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2010/feb/12/rick-perry/perry-says-texas-has-surplus/.

Why, you might ask, should you believe what PolitiFact.com has to say about anything? My answer to this is that you should visit this Pulitzer Prize winning website and, after reading a few articles, decide for yourself whether the analyses of political rhetoric and facts reviled justify my assessment. I think that it is a truly amazing public service that more people should take the time to visit regularly rather that mindlessly jabbering away with “friends” on FaceBook.

Claims from all quarters (individual politicians, the White House, Congress, PACs, even mass forwarded email claims) are analyzed by PolitiFact.com’s network of journalists all over the country, then they are peer reviewed for accuracy before being published. Claims are rated by consensus of research analysts as being either true, mostly true, half-true, barley true, false or “pants-on-fire,” meaning that the perpetrator of the claim either acted disingenuously or was sincere but should have known better. In other words, truth is measured by PolitiFact.com on a continuum from being absolutely true to being absolutely false. Most claims, it turns out, are rated somewhere in a grey area. Each claim assessment on PolitiFact.com includes an innovative graphic, a truth meter.

Setting my personal biases aside, I decided that I might use this on-line data base to determine whether Bill White or Rick Perry is the more truthful politician by looking at the claims of each in the aggregate. Rick Perry had 40 claims assessed by the site; Bill White had 22. Both politicians had claims rated true. Both had claims rated false too – even claims rated “pants on fire”.

To make some sense of all the numbers involved, I created a spreadsheet entering the number of true claims, mostly true claims, half-true claims, barely true claims, false claims, and pants-on-fire claims for each candidate. Then I assigned the value of one (1) for true ratings, three-fourths (.75) for mostly true ratings, zero (0) for half-true ratings, minus one-fourth (-.25) for barely true ratings, minus one (-1) for false ratings, and minus one and one-half (-1.5) for pants-on-fire ratings. I then multiplied the assigned values by the number of respective claim ratings for each candidate, summed the products, and then divided the sums by the number of claims analyzed for each candidate.  The result was percent for each. Multiplying the percents then by 100 produced whole numbers for comparison – what I call Truth Factors.

Had either candidate been completely truthful all the time, his Truth Factor would have been one hundred (100). But neither had a perfect score, of course. Bill White’s score was just 6.82, but Rick Perry’s was -33.75 (notice the minus sign).

Neither score was very reassuring to me, but somebody’s got to be the next governor, right? So, who are you going to vote for, the candidate whose claims trends to the far negative side of the truth continuum, or the one that’s at least on the positive side?

Yeah, I know, some will say that this just validates their suspicion that PolitiFact.com has a liberal bias. But I hasten to point out that, if PolitiFact.com favored the Democratic candidate in this pair-wise comparison, they didn’t do him much of a favor. No, I think the results of my analysis validates what I believe, the fact that it is truth that has a liberal bias.

Please feel free to post a comment, pro or con. Mention that you want it and I’ll send you a file copy of the spreadsheet used to generate my truth factors.

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Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 11:04 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The site you mentioned is great for national information, as well as for Texas. Unfortunately, California isn’t supported and there is a lot of information people need to see through the candidate with the big bucks. It is hard to think, much less write, without negative statements coming to mind, so I am going to shut up and pray now.

  2. The PolitiFact network is growing. It now consists of PolitiFact Florida (Miami Herald), PolitiFact Texas (Austin American-Statesman), PolitiFact Georgia (Atlanta Journal Constitution), and PolitiFact Rhode Island (Providence Journal). I think I read somewhete that a Washing State paper was joining the team. California can’t be far behind. Surely there is a paper there with the insight to get onboard. On a national scale, NPR and ABC News have also partnered with PolitiFact.

  3. I’m not overly concerned about the Governor’s race because in Texas its a pretty weak position in terms of power he/she can wield. The Texas Constitution controls those powers. I think it might be more worth the effort to look at the local races of the state reps and state senators. In any event, I think all Texans are lucky that the state legislature only meets for five months every two years. Imagine what mischief they could raise if they met every year!

    On your remark on gerrymandering…. democrats are guilty of it, too, in past years when they were in the majority.

  4. It is true that the state’s Constitution limits the powers of our chief executive. However, the post is not as impotent as many think. Perhaps the most significant formal power the governor has is that of appointment. The governor may have the opportunity to appoint as many as 4000 people during his term. This will be his way of leaving his mark on Texas even after he is gone from office. Many of the people the governor appoints to state boards have six-year terms. Since the governors’ term is four years, people that have the same mind set as he does will be in office for at least the beginning of the next administration. This, for this former Texas educator, is particularly significant for the post of State Board of Education Commissioner.

    Concerning your statement about gerrymandering by democrats in Texas when they were in the majority, I would very much appreciate being educated on this. There was nothing about it in Texas history textbooks when I taught the subject back in 2002, the year before the infamous redistricting was pulled off by Republicans after GWB was elected President. Before redistricting, Texas had 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans in Congress. After, it was 11-to-21 the other way around. Of course, redistricting is not the only way that ruling parties can ensure staying in power and aiding their party in gaining control in Washington. Are you suggesting that before Bill Clement’s one term from ’79 to ’83, the unbroken line of Democrat governors in Texas going all the way back to the reconstruction period was somehow manipulated? I think not, sir. Those were the years of rule by “Southern” Democrats, AKA the White Man’s party. If there was any gerrymandering during that time, it was in the form of Jim Crow laws.


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