The 'Fundamentals' of Lying

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 09:01 PM

When is "spin" really and truly nothing more than a plain old lie? Here's a good example: John McCain first saying that the "fundamentals" of the US economy were "strong," then saying with a straight face that what he meant by fundamentals was worker productivity and entrepreneurial ingenuity.

Other than the McCain ad about Obama sponsoring legislation requiring sex education be taught to kindergartners, nothing in this campaign has made me quite as angry as this blatant attempt to rescue McCain from the natural consequences of his claim of economic strength at the very time that all voters with a television, radio, or access to the internet can follow the unraveling of that same economy. This bizarre attempt save McCain's butt from angry ordinary Americans is like a two cushion combination shot in a game of pool: highly calculated as to angles. The distortion of the initial statement, in fact, appears to be just another page out of the Rove (via Schmidt) playbook: try to turn a gaffe (obliviousness about the real state of the economy) into a positive (complimenting American workers on their productivity).

McCain has personally claimed he meant only that American workers were the most productive in the world, and McCain-ites like senior policy advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer and chief economic advisor Carly Fiorina have repeated the claims on Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer, respectively. even the gold-plated Sarah Palin repeated the spin just today in an interview. And it's a lie. If you listen to the McCain speech, he said absolutely nothing that would indicate he defined "fundamentals" any differently than that term is usually defined. And believe me, it is not usually defined as worker productivity and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Wiley's Online Glossary defines economic fundamentals this way:

Economic fundamentals:

A very broad term which includes such economic measures as interest rates, the government’s budget deficit, the country’s balance of trade account (relating to exports and imports), the level of domestic business confidence, the inflation rate, the state of (and confidence in) the banking and wider financial sector and consumer confidence.

See anything in that definition about worker productivity? Entrepreneurial ingenuity? Even more important: of the factors listed, how many would you say currently point toward the current US economy's fundamentals being "strong?' You can call today's fundamentals "strong" only in the sense that they carry a very strong odor that no amount of financial deodorant is going to conceal.

And that doesn't even get into three things that most sensible people would say amount to economic fundamentals: unemployment, consumer debt, and real wages. Did the stench just get even stronger?

In short, McCain would have been more honest, and much more easy to defend, had he simply clarified his original statement to mean that the fundamentals do, in fact, stink.

But the spinmeisters weren't done yet. On Matthews, senior adviser Pfotenhauer actually had the audacity to say that "You also want to be careful that you don't fuel on the fire in situations like this." That, of course, is the old story that you don't want to be too negative and destroy the public's confidence. Which means that Pfotenhauer, like McCain, still doesn't understand that the public confidence is shot, gone, only a brief afterimage in the eye of the financial storm. The confidence the little shysters need to worry about now is public confidence that our leaders understand that things have gone to hell, and that the leaders have some clue about how to find the road out of hell pretty quickly.

The only truth in this writhing mass of untruth is that American workers are, in fact, gauged to be the most productive in the world in terms of total dollar amount of GDP per worker. But even that truth calls for more questions of McCain and his Spinnerettes:

  • How come the world's most productive workers are getting so little of the wealth they are creating for their employers? Put another way, why is productivity increasing (actually, it's because the same amount of work is being done by fewer workers) when workers' real wages are dropping or stagnating?
  • How come McCain and the Spinerettes didn't point out that a good part of the American productivity comes from Americans working longer hours than workers in other Western countries (an average 1,804 hours of work per American worker per year in 2006 according to the report linked above, compared to 1,407.1 hours for Norwegians and 1,564.4 for the French, for example)
  • How come they didn't point out that in terms of product per hour (which controls for the extra hours worked), America actually ranks as the second most productive nation, behind Norway?
I think it's safe to say the fundamentals of our economy are about as strong as the McCain camp's ethics.