July 05, 2008

It Depends on What Your Meaning of the Word 'for' Is

I usually find factcheck.org to be pretty fair, but this article of theirs reprinted over at Newsweek.com (hat tip to instapundit) bothers me a little. It criticizes the RNC for padding its claims that Obama voted 94 times "for higher taxes." While some of the RNC's claims are a bit questionable**, Lori Robertson throws out 23 of the votes because they

are votes Obama cast against changing tax rates from what they were at the time. Taxes would not have gone up. They would have been "higher" only compared to the cuts being proposed.


By Robertson's own admission, the votes are for the situation in which the taxes would be higher. What is the problem here? The claim is not that he voted to raise taxes but that he voted for higher taxes. The statement (as it pertains to the votes in question) is correct. I'd even go so far as to argue that the spirit of the claim is correct. The whole point of the RNC making the statement is to illustrate that when presented with a measure to vote on, Senator Obama often chooses the option that means higher taxes. These 23 votes are in line with that argument, and should be included. So who's padding now?

It may seem like I'm once again picking nits (which is what I thought factcheck.org is supposed to do) but think of it this way: If one is presented with a proposal to lower taxes, and one is given three voting options--for it, against it, or abstain--which one of those votes would you consider voting "for higher taxes"? It certainly can't be abstaining (which I suppose he could have done had he not wanted higher taxes), and it just as certainly can't be voting for the proposal, which would lower taxes. So what does that leave?

What upsets me about this? Robertson and factcheck.org should know better. I've found them to be--for the most part--reliable in the past. Now, I really have to wonder whether this was an unintentional mistake, or a case of manipulating words in much the same way that they accuse the RNC of doing. Either way, it's disturbing.

**For example, the RNC counted 17 votes on 7 measures. While multiple votes on the same measure are technically accurate, given the RNC's statement (they didn't claim he voted on 94 measures, after all) I think this one does smack of "padding."

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