In the process, he offers false balance: For our money, Nicholas Kristof does a very good job today explaining the 47 percent.
That doesn’t mean there are no errors, or perhaps apparent errors, in his well rendered column. One example:
Would that kindergarten teacher really be part of Club 47?
KRISTOF (9/20/12): As I watched a video of Mitt Romney scolding moochers suffering from a culture of dependency, I thought of American soldiers I’ve met in Afghanistan and Iraq. They don’t pay federal income tax while they’re in combat zones, and they rely on government benefits when they come back.Would that kindergarten teacher be paid so little that she would owe no federal income tax? We don’t know the answer to that. But unless she has a couple of kids, it sounds like a bit of a stretch. (We could be wrong.)
Even if they return unscathed, most will never pay lofty sums in federal income taxes. No, all they offer our nation is their lives, while receiving government benefits—such as a $100,000 “death gratuity” to their wives or husbands when killed.
Maybe I’m being unfair, for I’m sure that when Romney complained in that video about freeloaders, he didn’t mean soldiers. But the 47 percent (more accurately, 46 percent) of American families whom he scorned because they don’t pay federal income taxes includes many other modestly paid workers or retirees who have contributed far more meaningfully to America than some who can shell out $50,000 to attend a fund-raiser like the one where Romney spoke in May.
What about the underpaid kindergarten teacher in an inner-city school? What about young police officers and firefighters? What about social workers struggling to help abused children?
On balance, we thought Kristof’s column was very well composed—except for the way he bowed to that one key Pundit Mandate. At two points, we thought he stretched extremely hard to be fair and (falsely) balanced.
It all starts in Kristof’s youth:
KRISTOF: When I was growing up in Oregon, it was Democrats who were typically the crazies. Gov. George Wallace (“segregation forever”) tapped into populist resentments in his presidential campaigns. Lyndon Larouche was a cult leader seeking the Democratic nomination.How long was Kristof’s youth? Wallace made that unfortunate statement in 1963. Larouche first campaigned as a Democrat in 1980.
It’s certainly true that southern segregationists were once all Democrats. That said, we thought Kristof was stretching a bit in that passage.
We reacted the same way here:
KRISTOF: For me, the saddest polls are those about facts. A Dartmouth poll this year found that Republicans believe, by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, that “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.”Geez. That highlighted point is a major stretch. At present, many Republicans believe many crazy facts. This includes that fact about Obama. It includes those wayward beliefs about the 47 percent.
The same poll found that Republicans believe, almost by a 3-to-1 ratio, that President Obama was born in another country. Democrats also suffer from self-deception (such as a reluctance to credit improvements under a Republican president), but today’s Republicans seem disproportionately untethered to reality.
This is deeply unfortunate. It’s very bad for the nation.
We think some liberals are behaving badly too, principally in the need to find racists under every possible bed (except our own). We would have been happy to see Kristof make some sensible statement about unconstructive liberal/Democratic tendencies.
But that “reluctance to credit improvements under a Republican president” is really a piece of false balance, as compared to the widespread idea that Obama was born in Kenya.
In our view, Kristof explains the 47 percent extremely well. But good lord! The need for false balance never goes away! As Governor Wallace might have said:
False balance now, false balance tomorrow, false balance forever!
As we've noted from the performance stages of the world's major capitals: Obama was actually born in Hawaii. No other president was born that far from Kenya!