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August 22nd, 2017

Insight

Getting the political story wrong

Jay Ambrose

By Jay Ambrose (TNS)

Published Feb. 27, 2015

Getting the political story wrong
The way stories get told about politics, Washington doings and government issues generally these days is too often backwards, twisted, confused, confusing, and half-baked even if delivered with pizzazz.

Those at fault include many of the story tellers, otherwise known as news outlets, ideological ninnies and first and foremost wily, deceptive politicians. What ultimately gets cheated is the democracy. The public doesn't grasp what's really the case and the weight of its opinion can too easily end up on the side of the devil.

Take, for instance, the story about some Republicans wanting to close down the Department of Homeland Security. What the House voted to do was fund the department but not President Barack Obama's costly, almost surely illegal, unilateral executive order giving a bevy of new rights to illegal immigrants. Democrats said they would prevent any funding at all rather than include that provision. News accounts mostly made it sound as if the GOP was the one threatening to shut down the department.

But suppose I chose to give my wife a vase with a chip of glass missing — I thought the mark lent a touch of authentic antiquity, say — but someone else saw it as an unacceptable effacement, grabbed the vase, smashed it and said I smashed it.

Whatever you think of the right or wrong here, would you agree?

Next consider Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican presidential prospect saying he did not know whether or not President Barack Obama was a Christian. Headlines, quickie wrap-ups and commentary of the glazed-eye type made it seem as if he was taking a shot at the president. Read the details in The Washington Post and you learn the opposite is nearer the truth.

Pressed in an interview on whether he thought the president was a Christian, Walker said he had little way of knowing — and, by the way, none of us can assuredly see through to the faith of others, as I am hardly the first to observe. Walker went on that the question was far from pertinent inquiry, adding that it was nevertheless what many reporters delighted in and a reason many dislike the press. He is right. It was gotcha journalism.

For gotcha politics, let's back up to the recent Obama State of the Union address in which Obama said that the minimum wage had to be raised because you cannot support a family on $15,000 a year.

Point one on the side of truth: Minimum wage earners are often one of many wage earners in a family. The average annual household income for them is said to be about $53,000.

Point two: As minimum wages go up, some government benefits will often go down, leaving the recipient little better off than earlier.

Final point: An immediate consequence of a hike (with worse to come in the long run) could be as many as a half-million workers being laid off, according to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office. Does Obama think supporting a family with zero wages is better than $15,000 in wages?

When moral pretension substitutes for analytical clarity, what you get time and again is policy that undermines instead of advances the cause of humanity and sanity. Right now, for example, we are faced with ever increasing federal spending, higher deficits to come, an increasingly unmanageable debt on the way and an absolute need to address the chief cause by adjusting the workings of entitlements if we are not to squash the budget and someday, maybe, the economy.

It can be done without pain, least of all for the least fortunate, but not without narratives that are straightforward, right and clear to stop this business of too many in both parties running for their political lives.

It's time to get the stories right.

Jay Ambrose
(TNS)

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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.

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