Wednesday, September 21, 2011

You can't fact-check a dog whistle

Factcheck.org is unduly literal-minded when it protests that Perry, contra his critics, never "advocated"  for Texas seceding from the United States:
Some may question the prudence of Perry entertaining the suggestion of secession, or talking too loosely about such a radical idea, but any fair-minded reading of Perry's fuller quote, and its context, makes clear that Perry was not advocating for Texas to secede. And Perry has repeatedly said since then that he did not, and does not, advocate secession.

Of course Perry didn't 'advocate' secession. He just took advantage of the emotional valence the idea held for his audience.  He left it floating as a pleasant fantasy or reserve contingency if current trends persist:

Shannon: Some have associated you with the idea of secession or sovereignty for your state.

Perry: I think there’s a lot of different scenarios. Texas is a unique place. When we came in the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.
You know, my hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what may come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.
And again: 
Asked about his comments in a Newsweek interview a year later, Perry told Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune, "I said that we live in an incredibly wonderful country, and I see absolutely no reason for that to ever happen. But I do understand people's concern and anger about what this administration is doing from an economic standpoint–in particular, the long-term debt that's being created for not only them but for future generations."
That's the Perry way. Toss out an insinuation that defames and degrades a target of your base's contempt -- the Federal government, the Fed, the Fed Chairman, the President. If a human being is the target, it's often useful to float the allegation as a contingency ("If Bernanke is using the Fed for political purposes"...) or leave the object unnamed  ("We need to make strategic decisions based on consultation with our military leaders on the ground, rather than just some arbitrary political promises"). If challenged, cite bogus authority or assert that your inflammatory language is justified by people's anger at ill-defined malfeasance without detailing any evidence that your charge is justified.


Watch that last process at work as Perry defends his claim that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme (my emphasis):
I’m comfortable that the rhetoric I have used was both descriptive and spot on. Calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme has been used for years. I don’t think people should be surprised that terminology would be used.

No one gets confused about the point I was making, that we have a system that is now broken. We need to make sure that those on Social Security today — and those approaching it — know without a doubt it will be in place. It will not go away. We’ll have a transitional period for those in mid-career as they’re planning for their retirement. And our young people should be given some options. I don’t know what all of those options need to be yet, but they know instinctively that the program that is there today is not going to be there for them unless there are changes made.

I don’t get particularly concerned that I need to back off from my factual statement that Social Security, as it is structured today, is broken. If you want to call it a Ponzi scheme, if you want to say it’s a criminal enterprise, if you just want to say it’s broken –they all get to the same point. We need, as a country, to have an adult conversation. Don’t try to scare the senior citizens and those who are on Social Security that it’s somehow going to go away with the mean, old heartless Republican.
No one gets confused about the point I was making, that we have a system that is now broken. We need to make sure that those on Social Security today — and those approaching it — know without a doubt it will be in place. It will not go away. We’ll have a transitional period for those in mid-career as they’re planning for their retirement. And our young people should be given some options. I don’t know what all of those options need to be yet, but they know instinctively that the program that is there today is not going to be there for them unless there are changes made.
The term "Ponzi scheme" is valid because it's been used before. "Criminal enterprise" is equally valid because the system needs reform. To toss out any defamatory epithet you please is to start an adult conversation.  Trust me to fix the system because I'm willing to call it names.

He who finds it pretty to think of secession will save the Union. He who likes to call Social Security a criminal enterprise will find a way to reform it when he gets around to it.  He who accuses the nation's highest officials of putting personal political gain above the national interest will always be guided by the most high-minded of motives.

See also: Perry letting slip the dogs of war?

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