Checking the Facts, in Advance
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Tuesday 12 October 2004
It's not hard to predict what President Bush, who sounds
increasingly desperate, will say tomorrow. Here are eight lies or
distortions you'll hear, and the truth about each:
Mr. Bush will talk about the 1.7 million jobs created since the
summer of 2003, and will say that the economy is "strong and getting
stronger." That's like boasting about getting a D on your final exam,
when you flunked the midterm and needed at least a C to pass the course.
Mr. Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside
over a decline in payroll employment. That's worse than it sounds
because the economy needs around 1.6 million new jobs each year just
to keep up with population growth. The past year's job gains, while
better news than earlier job losses, barely met this requirement, and
they did little to close the huge gap between the number of jobs the
country needs and the number actually available.
Mr. Bush will boast about the decline in the unemployment rate
from its June 2003 peak. But the employed fraction of the population
didn't rise at all; unemployment declined only because some of those
without jobs stopped actively looking for work, and therefore dropped
out of the unemployment statistics. The labor force participation rate
- the fraction of the population either working or actively looking
for work - has fallen sharply under Mr. Bush; if it had stayed at its
January 2001 level, the official unemployment rate would be 7.4 percent.
Mr. Bush will claim that the recession and 9/11 caused record
budget deficits. Congressional Budget Office estimates show that tax
cuts caused about two-thirds of the 2004 deficit.
The Tax Cuts
Mr. Bush will claim that Senator John Kerry opposed "middle class"
tax cuts. But budget office numbers show that most of Mr. Bush's tax
cuts went to the best-off 10 percent of families, and more than a
third went to the top 1 percent, whose average income is more than $1
The Kerry Tax Plan
Mr. Bush will claim, once again, that Mr. Kerry plans to raise
taxes on many small businesses. In fact, only a tiny percentage would
be affected. Moreover, as Mr. Kerry correctly pointed out last week,
the administration's definition of a small-business owner is so broad
that in 2001 it included Mr. Bush, who does indeed have a stake in a
timber company - a business he's so little involved with that he
apparently forgot about it.
Mr. Bush will claim that Mr. Kerry proposes $2 trillion in new
spending. That's a partisan number and is much higher than independent
estimates. Meanwhile, as The Washington Post pointed out after the
Republican convention, the administration's own numbers show that the
cost of the agenda Mr. Bush laid out "is likely to be well in excess
of $3 trillion" and "far eclipses that of the Kerry plan."
On Friday, Mr. Bush claimed that he had increased nondefense
discretionary spending by only 1 percent per year. The actual number
is 8 percent, even after adjusting for inflation. Mr. Bush seems to
have confused his budget promises - which he keeps on breaking - with
Mr. Bush will claim that Mr. Kerry wants to take medical decisions
away from individuals. The Kerry plan would expand Medicaid (which
works like Medicare), ensuring that children, in particular, have
health insurance. It would protect everyone against catastrophic
medical expenses, a particular help to the chronically ill. It would
do nothing to restrict patients' choices.
By singling out Mr. Bush's lies and misrepresentations, am I
saying that Mr. Kerry isn't equally at fault? Yes.
Mr. Kerry sometimes uses verbal shorthand that offers nitpickers
things to complain about. He talks of 1.6 million lost jobs; that's
the private-sector loss, partly offset by increased government
employment. But the job record is indeed awful. He talks of the $200
billion cost of the Iraq war; actual spending is only $120 billion so
far. But nobody doubts that the war will cost at least another $80
billion. The point is that Mr. Kerry can, at most, be accused of using
loose language; the thrust of his statements is correct.
Mr. Bush's statements, on the other hand, are fundamentally
dishonest. He is insisting that black is white, and that failure is
success. Journalists who play it safe by spending equal time exposing
his lies and parsing Mr. Kerry's choice of words are betraying their
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