Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lies, damned lies, and Reagan speeches

Ronald Reagan is remembered as a great speech giver, but one thing that seems to get overlooked is that he had a habitual habit of including in said speeches figments of his own imagination. Reagan's gift (if you wish to call it that) was that he was able to then believe it 100%. Reading Reagan's America by Gary Wills, one is left with the impression that Reagan spent most of his life inhabiting a fantasy world of his own making.

In The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman reminds us that Reagan was fuzzy with the truth from the start. On Oct. 27, 1964, Reagan gave a speech for the Goldwater campaign that is considered his break-out perfomance. It was full of b.s.

Reagan's speech might best be described as a rant - a rant against the evils of big government, based not on logical argument but on a mix of gee-whiz statistics and anecdotes.

The statistics were misleading at best, and the anecdotes suspect. "Federal employees number 2.5 million, and federal, state, and local, one out of six of the nation's work force is employed by the government" declared Reagan, conveying the impression of a vast, useless bureaucracy. It would have spoiled his point if people had known what those useless bureaucrats were actually doing: In 1964 almost two-thirds of federal employees worked either in the Defense department or in the postal service, while most state and local employees were schoolteachers, policemen, or firemen. He attacked Aid to Families with Dependent Children with a story about a woman with seven children who wanted a divorce because here welfare check would be larger than her husband's paycheck - a story he claimed to have heard from an unnamed judge in Los Angeles.
The argument by pretty-obviously made up anecdote has become a conservative movement staple, leading to Al Franken's hilarious mockery of the tactic in chapter 15 of Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.

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