Voters, or enough of them, will take fancy over fact if it is delivered convincingly and habitually. Politicians have always employed that proverb, but national Republicans are giving it its toughest test in the struggle for the hearts and minds of voters on the country's economic troubles.
Republicans have persuaded a sizable share of the electorate that Barack Obama and the Democrats caused the 2007-09 recession and the long malaise that followed, but it is proving a little harder to persuade them that the president is going to do exactly what he has says he will not do — tax the poor and middle class. But give them time.
Obama has said since 2008 he would not raise taxes on middle-class Americans and that he would instead lower them. His stimulus program in 2009 did that and now he proposes to do it again with another stimulus program that is combined with a big deficit reduction package that the country seems to want. While cutting trillions in spending Obama would restore taxes on the wealthiest Americans to the rates of the boom years of the 1990s and close a few of the most egregious loopholes for major corporations.
The task is to convince people that Obama is not just asking the rich to pay their fair share but that he's going to tax everybody more. Most of the presidential candidates repeat the mantra that Obama is going to raise people's taxes, nearly always neglecting to say that only the wealthiest 2 percent or fewer of taxpayers would pay any increase and that the higher taxes would kick in starting 2013 while the tax relief for the middle class would be immediate.
The trick of confusing fact with fiction was at work last week when two of our delegation, Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Tim Griffin, put out statements the same day bashing the president for his economic record and his jobs plan. It was Griffin's way of explaining why he was supporting Mitt Romney, the one presidential candidate whose record stands in stark relief to almost every ideological position Griffin has taken.
Let's take Boozman first. He issued a statement using the standard Republican boilerplate. The president, Boozman said, wants to stimulate the economy by raising taxes, contrary to what he had said at the depth of the recession in 2009.
"What he doesn't tell us is that his proposed $1.5 trillion in new taxes [over 10 years starting in 2013] will hit all of us."
Well, to be fairly exact, in Boozman's Arkansas, of the 1,200,000 who file federal income tax returns it would hit about 15,000 individuals or couples and for most of them it would be a pittance. If you substituted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's surtax on millionaires, which Obama said he would sign if Congress passed it instead of his plan, the tax would fall on some 1,100 people who have taxable incomes of more than $1 million a year.
So, 15,000 or 1,100 out of 1.2 million taxpayers. Is that close enough to "all of us" to suit you?
The problem, and the reason Boozman was compelled to issue a statement, is that a huge majority of Americans believe that raising taxes on the rich and closing corporate tax loopholes must be a part of reducing the budget deficits. The president is calling for what most of Boozman's constituents want.
What Boozman might say if he was pressed is that he meant that if the millionaires got mad over the slightly higher government take from their profits and refused to hire anybody or fired people then a lot more people than the 1,100 would be affected.
The real solution, Boozman said, is to reform the tax code to reduce taxes on the job creators, get the government off the backs of oil, gas and coal companies, cut spending and pass trade agreements.
Griffin would have a harder time explaining his deception, if you prefer not to call it a lie.
Griffin intends to run against Obama, not his Democratic opponent, next year, and aligning himself with the presumptive Republican nominee, Romney, looks like a good way to do that. He may chair Romney's campaign in Arkansas. His statement announcing his endorsement began by talking about Obama, not Romney.
"President Obama's policies have been categorical failures for our country," he began. "Unemployment is over nine percent, our deficits are growing, and small businesses are being burdened with regulations." Never mind that the economy was losing 775,000 jobs a month when Bush turned things over to Obama.
Our deficits are growing? Not exactly. The last deficit of the Bush administration, fiscal 2009, was $1.41 trillion. The deficit declined to a hair under $1.3 trillion in 2010, Obama's first budget year. In the year that just ended it was about the same.
As a share of GDP, which is how some people like to measure deficits, they have gone from 10 percent in Bush's last budget to 8.9 percent in 2010 and 8.6 percent for 2011.
Facts. Who needs 'em?