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How to Lie with Statistics


The Daily Howler today points to this editorial on the Washington Post which states:
"Under this plan, 92 million Americans receive an average tax cut of $1,083," Mr. Bush said. "That's fair." No, it's deceptive. The vast majority of taxpayers -- 80 percent -- would receive less than that amount.
President Bush clearly does not believe that a tax cut has to be fair--I'm sure he believes that the rich get bigger tax cuts because they pay more taxes. Given that belief and his famous preference for straight talk, why does he not just say so. I can imagine a convincing argument for that position--I probably wouldn't buy it, but others might, and it would not be a distortion.

So why lie? I believe that the reason is a disturbing character flaw in the President. Given two choices, he would always choose to do which ever one was easier. He would rather distort his tax plan than try to be persuasive, attack Iraq than fight terrorism, pay for allies rather than use diplomacy, talk about funding AIDS, hydrogen fuel cells, education rather than actually fund them.

The Democratic strategy has to be direct confrontation. They need to get Bush into a situation where he has to admit that he's hasn't been straight with us. This might not be possible until the 2004 presidential debates, but the press will have a chance to question him before then if he ever gives another press conference. The Democrats need to get their act together and basically tell the press what questions to ask. Each Democrat should hold press conferences where they basically say:
Someone should ask the President why his sales pitch for the tax plan only takes into account 92 million taxpayers--is it because the other 200+ million Americans bring the average down. If not, what is the average when you take into account all tax payers.
or
Someone should ask the President why he wants all people who pay income tax to receive a cut. Why only income tax payers? Why won't payroll tax, property tax, and sales tax payers receive a tax cut? Is it because the bulk of income tax (which includes dividend taxes) is paid by wealthy supporters of his party, and they don't care much about the other kinds of taxes.
or
Someone should ask the President why he always uses averages to describe tax cuts. An MBA from Harvard surely realizes that this distorts the large differences between the top 20% and the bottom 20%. When we were told we were getting a CEO President, we were expecting Lou Gerstner, not Ken Lay
The press is too lazy to think up their own questions. Newt Gingrich realized this in the early 90's and fed them lines. The Democrats need to figure this out and get the press to ask the tough questions that President Bush won't let them ask directly.
2/21/2003 07:00:00 PM [Link] |