Democratic Fact-Check Smackdown
June 28, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Please help me lay down the Democratic smackdown upon my fact-lacking Republican friends.

A couple of my friends, who are by no means dim bulbs but not exactly incredulous when sent emails about Cindy Sheehan never seeing her dead son anyway, and somehow prone to flipping around the possible Republican outsourcing of fundraising calls to India (there was an attempt to debunk this by distancing the party responsible from the RNC) as something the Democrats did, I am often fed up at their taunts that the Democrats will screw up the economy.

When I pointed out that Clinton had a nice surplus going, which lasted into Bush got into office, they countered that it was the Republican Congress that did it. (I dimly recollect that, in Clinton's term, we had one segment with a Republican-dominated Congress and one Democratic.)

So, knowing little of economics other than college and what I uncomprehendingly read online, how would I prove (or find out the unpleasant truth otherwise) that Democrats, either in Congress or the White House, are not death on the economy? I dug up a rather telling Wikipedia article on the National debt by U.S. Presidential terms, but I would like to find one for the relative percentages of either party in Congress (which I realize runs on a shorter cycle).

And how would I figure out if a delay is present in the response of the system? You know, the "It's not the fact that the Republicans were holding the Senate then, it was that the Democrats were holding it six years ago" bit.

I know, the numbers of variables are enormous, the connections between them murky, their coefficients and functions mysterious. I'm just looking something loose based on this somewhat simple concept.

Granted, correlation is not causation, but it does lead to things I might explore. Have there been best-fit curves for these sort of things, with theory to back it up, and (I'm reaching here) anything like economic experiments to prove it? Or is this a situation wherein I can always find someone who will back up any position on either side, and it's therefore a waste of time?

Granted, this will probably not be effective in changing their minds, but it might quiet them on the topic. I am open to the idea that it may turn out that Democrats are in fact burning barrels of cash just so they can roast abortions on skewers made from the melted-down Congressional medals from Vietnam veterans, or whatever ludicrous thing the Red Staters seem to think they do in their secret cabals while planning the outlawing of apple pie.
posted by adipocere to Law & Government (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
If my experience is any indication, the chances are pretty good that no fact you summon will convince 'em.
posted by box at 4:27 PM on June 28, 2008 [9 favorites]


This doesn't sound like chatfilter, since there are a few actual questions to be answered:

"I dug up a rather telling Wikipedia article on the National debt by U.S. Presidential terms, but I would like to find one for the relative percentages of either party in Congress"

"Have there been best-fit curves for these sort of things, with theory to back it up, and (I'm reaching here) anything like economic experiments to prove it? Or is this a situation wherein I can always find someone who will back up any position on either side, and it's therefore a waste of time?"

The question could be phrased more clearly, but the OP is looking for specific information. I'm also interested in sources for this, because I often hear Republicans give credit to Reagan for growth in the 90s and wonder if there are any standard or historical ways of measuring growth in relation to the executive branch.

Also, shouting "chatfilter" when you're not an admin just adds noise to a thread.
posted by null terminated at 4:36 PM on June 28, 2008


I don't think this is chatfilter actually. The question itself is just wordy. But it is somewhat specific. My interpretation is that they are asking "what arguments are there that democrats have helped the economy more than republicans?"

I don't have much of an answer myself, I guess, as I'm not all that knowledgeable about economics. "Or is this a situation wherein I can always find someone who will back up any position on either side, and it's therefore a waste of time?" Yes, that is the way it seems to me.

I also think there's a strong ethical/moral element to the arguments. Republicans tend to object to government spending on social services as inefficient, too expensive, or what have you. Some democrats, including myself, would counter that even if averaged out, the whole US economy is "less healthy" as a result (whatever that might mean), if less people are starving, impoverished, or in similarly terrible situations, it is worth it, as long as it's not royally screwing the economy.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:42 PM on June 28, 2008


[The core question is fine, this can stay, but there'd have been a lot less friction here if you'd started with "here are my questions" instead "I'm gonna smack down some Republicans" and pared it down to be just the core questions themselves.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:57 PM on June 28, 2008


You may find this tool useful: The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It (U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt).

When I pointed out that Clinton had a nice surplus going, which lasted into Bush got into office, they countered that it was the Republican Congress that did it.

Was not Congress under Bush Republican-led until 2006? How do they account for the terrible disaster of his fiscal policies?

(I dimly recollect that, in Clinton's term, we had one segment with a Republican-dominated Congress and one Democratic.)

Democrats lost their majority in the mid-term elections of 1994, iirc.

Wikipedia notes (emphasis mine): "A major problem with the economy at the time was the issue of the massive deficit and the problem of government spending. In order to address these issues, in August 1993, Clinton signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 which passed Congress without a single Republican vote. It raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of taxpayers, while cutting taxes on 15 million low-income families and making tax cuts available to 90 percent of small businesses.[18] Additionally, it mandated that the budget be balanced over a number of years and the deficit be reduced.[19] This was to be achieved through the implementation of spending restraints." If that bill was responsible for the surplus, then your friends would be wrong to say that Republicans had anything to do with it - but I don't know enough to know if it was or not. Something for you to look into.

The "Democrats are bad with money and Republicans are good with money" meme appears to be a religious belief on the part of many Americans, and I don't know that facts will have any effect on their faith. But good luck.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:12 PM on June 28, 2008


When I pointed out that Clinton had a nice surplus going, which lasted into Bush got into office, they countered that it was the Republican Congress that did it. (I dimly recollect that, in Clinton's term, we had one segment with a Republican-dominated Congress and one Democratic.)

You might want to look into the roles of Clinton administration appointees like Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers. Rubin, former co-CEO of Goldman Sachs, headed up Clinton's National Economic Council and then served as Treasury Secretary (followed by Summers). He was an enthusiastic advocate for a balanced budget and had to fight hard against the Republican Congress to push through the Clinton tax hike for the highest income earners. His book is pretty interesting.
posted by mullacc at 5:13 PM on June 28, 2008


Please help me lay down the Democratic smackdown upon my fact-lacking Republican friends.

"I like my country and I always loved the potential of the American dream. But things seem fucked up right now. What do you think we can do, together, despite our differences, to make this country better?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:17 PM on June 28, 2008


...fight hard against the Republican Congress to push through the Clinton tax hike for the highest income earners

Er, let me re-phrase that: he had to fight hard against Republicans in Congress to push through the 1993 plan. Republicans didn't control Congress until after the '94 elections, of course. That '93 plan and subsequent budgets in the mid-90s were part of the Clinton plan to arrive at a balance budget. Republicans fought hard against the Clinton budget in '95 and '96, for example, because they didn't include cuts to social programs that would've brought about the end to deficits sooner. Clinton, Rubin et al resisted these cuts because they would've undermined the goal of arriving at a balanced budget while leaving countercyclical government spending options intact.
posted by mullacc at 5:40 PM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't bicker over who was historically responsible for good/bad times... instead, focus on the fact that the Bush administration has strayed a long way both from fiscal conservatism and from smaller government, and McCain plans to stay that course.

I would start by looking for material at Libertarians for Obama. If the economy is a big concern to your friends, then these arguments may be persuasive. OTOH, if your friends are voting Republican because of the evangelical connection, you should probably just give up.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:44 PM on June 28, 2008


Try the book excerpts at this site. I would also go to Angry Bear. This will be pretty useful, as Republicans are pretty slippery when you present them with the basic facts of GDP growth of Democratic vs. Republican presidential terms. The bloggers at that site have crunched the data any number of ways, but you'll have to do some searching to find the exact posts.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 6:30 PM on June 28, 2008


When I pointed out that Clinton had a nice surplus going, which lasted into Bush got into office, they countered that it was the Republican Congress that did it. (I dimly recollect that, in Clinton's term, we had one segment with a Republican-dominated Congress and one Democratic.)

Congressional Republicans and the associated Republican media Wurlitzer predicted dire consequences to the economy in the aftermath of the Clinton tax plan of 1993:

"Clearly, this is a job-killer in the short-run. The impact on job creation is going to be devastating." Rep. Dick Armey, (Republican, Texas)

"The tax increase will ... lead to a recession ... and will actually increase the deficit." Rep. Newt Gingrich (Republican, Georgia)

"I will make you this bet. I am willing to risk the mortgage on it ... the deficit will be up; unemployment will be up; in my judgment, inflation will be up." Sen. Robert Packwood (Republican, Oregon)

"The deficit four years from today will be higher than it is today, not lower." Sen. Phil Gramm (Republican, Texas)


However, it is true that the "surplus" of the later part of the Clinton administration was counting the built-in surplus of the social security tax system. Clinton "got lucky" with declining oil prices, recovery from the late 80s/early 90s housing crash and defense-cuts shock, and the internet / Windows 95 office productivity boom.

The debt-to-the-penny site above has the following facts about the national debt:
09/30/1997	3,789,667,546,849.60	1,623,478,464,547.74	5,413,146,011,397.34
09/30/1998	3,733,864,472,163.53	1,792,328,536,734.09	5,526,193,008,897.62
09/30/1999	3,636,104,594,501.81	2,020,166,307,131.62	5,656,270,901,633.43
09/29/2000	3,405,303,490,221.20	2,268,874,719,665.66	5,674,178,209,886.86
09/28/2001	3,339,310,176,094.74	2,468,153,236,105.32	5,807,463,412,200.06
The first number is true national debt, the second number is government debt securities held by internal trust funds, and the third number is the some of those two (which is also called the "national debt").

Both the Republican Congress and Executive deserve credit for holding the line on spending in the 2nd half of Clinton's presidency. Thanks, Monica, for keeping the pre-occupied.
posted by yort at 7:53 PM on June 28, 2008


FWIW I have been a registered Republican for decades, and there is 0.00% chance of me voting for any Republican at the national level this coming election, and I did not vote Republican in 2004. This is because I am already convinced that Bush and friends have, in the last 8 years, done more to harm the US and my children's future (who are just now entering the work force) than anything I can remember, including the Arab oil embargo which was going on decades ago when I entered the work force.

So yes, there are Republicans (at least 1) who can be swayed by intelligent arguments showing that a change in direction, fiscal responsibility, superior leadership, a departure from hot button issues/hiding behind the flag are critically necessary at this point. I would add that the reasons to be a Democrat or Republican used to be related to philosophy of government, and which party seemed to have its act together or be fielding the superior candidates.

Sadly, with me you would be preaching to the choir. I don't know how to help sway your friends if they haven't already seen the light. I have relatives who seem to think that all that's important is abortion or gay marriage. Or they take pot shots at the Democratic candidates for their personalities or supposed lack of qualifications, when the easiest target for pot shots is the current president. It is difficult for me to have a meaningful conversation with them when the dangers that I see to the US are far deeper and more strategic. This is a democracy and social questions like those should be handled by debate and pushing for specific laws, not by electing whatever dim bulb candidate promises to stubbornly focus on your one or two pet issues.

Although this might sound like a rant, I am trying to give the OP an example (myself) of a Republican who was swayed and the problems I am having swaying others. I for one am hoping to see a much bluer map this next election.
posted by forthright at 8:52 PM on June 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


http://i27.tinypic.com/120m447.jpg

interesting image
posted by KenManiac at 11:00 PM on June 28, 2008


If your argument is that democrats are not bad for the economy then you should not use the national debt as your argument. Government spending does not determine the strength of the economy.
You should look at some measures of wealth (per capita gdp...) and see how those changed between democrat and republican administrations.
Obviously the president has little control over the economy so I imagine you'll find that in the long run it doesn't make that much of a difference.
posted by bucksox at 7:30 PM on July 31, 2008


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