PolitiFiction A Lie of the Year Sends Alice Back to Wonderland

Richard Eskow

“If I had a world of my own,” said Alice, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t.”

I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t. In fact I’m falling down the rabbit hole even as we speak.

‘PolitiFact,’ a project of the St. Petersburg Times, is at it again. It chastised Democrats months ago for saying the GOP Medicare proposal would “change the essential nature of Medicare.” That was right before they noted that it would “end the aspect of Medicare that directly covers specific services, such as hospital coverage.”

Alice-in-Wonderland MedicareIf you thought that the “aspect of Medicare” that directly pays for hospital coverage was Medicare, then apparently you are a very silly person …

Now they’ve made this factual statement their “Lie of the Year.” We found PolitiFact’s logic so tortured when they first made this claim that we found ourselves falling like Alice into a hallucinogenic wonderland. Don’t make us go there again! Fortunately, the cudgel has been taken up by Steve Benen and Paul Krugman, although we’ll take a little exception to Steve’s analogy of a golf cart with a Ferrari symbol on it.

That’s too generous. At least a golf cart is still a vehicle. A better analogy would be to take somebody’s Ferrari and replace it with a box of quarters for bus fare – and while the bus fare will go up every year, your substitute ‘Ferrari’ will never pay more than a quarter per ride. In fact, we used a similar analogy ourselves when we first tried tackling this subject back in May. And as much as I’m trying to fight it, I’m falling back, back, back,into a world where nothing is as it seems …

Alice! the voice is shouting. Don’t you ride the bus to school every day?

Mmm, yes, you say. Sometimes one, sometimes the other.

Well, they’re getting rid of them and replacing them with vouchers.

Why? you ask. How?

Just then the Cato Institute Caterpillar – the Cato-Pillar – appears before you, sitting on an ornate toadstool built by generous corporate donors. Beside him is the Mad Hatter, er, the Bad Tanner, we mean, the “Tan Boehner” – with a pricetag on his hat that reads “Citizens United.”

Ahem, they say. We think public transportation is too expensive, don’t you? So we’re taking the subways and buses away.

But, you ask, why not just fix what makes it get more expensive?

You’ll like this better, they say. There will be taxis. Wonderful, wonderful taxis. Taxis that aren’t owned and operated by the evil government.

But a taxi driver tried to cheat me once, you say. And when we came back from vacation, another one tried to take us all over town and …

Stop! they said. We will turn them into good taxis.

But what will come after the buses and subways?

But the taxis will soon cost more than that! And they’ll keep getting more and more expensive if nobody’s negotiating with them! How will we afford them?

You don’t understand, they reply. Competition can do wonderful things! Our plan will replace the purchasing power of everybody’s money all put together with … well, with $2.50. And then Competition will lower the cost of cab fare, and make the cabs better too.

If Competition can do all that, you ask, why hasn’t it done it already?

Trust us, they reply. Believe.

I want to believe, you say. But how will it lower cab fares to give taxi drivers millions of new riders? Doesn’t increased demand lead to higher prices? Isn’t that how the free market works?

They shake their heads sadly. Silly girl, they mutter.

I don’t like this! You stamp your foot. I don’t like this at all! I ride the subway and buses every day and now you’re shutting them down!

Their faces grow red. That’s a lie! We’re not shutting down the subways and buses! We’re reforming them!

You say, Reforming them? But they’ll be sold for scrap! You’ll rip out the seats and sell the copper wiring to people with wheelbarrows!

Wel-l-l-l … they murmur.

You’ll take those subway cars and buses to a junkyard, where they’ll be pounded into metal cubes and buried in landfill! The token machines will gather dust! The dark and cavernous tunnels and stations will echo only with the cries of rats! Spiderwebs will cover the entrances and the turnstiles will rust! There will be no people, no subways, no buses – They’ll all be gone! How can you “reform” something by making it go away?

Ahh, they say. Look at your new voucher. See what it says at the top? It says “This voucher is your new bus or subway.” That’s what we call our plan: “Your New Bus or Subway.” Then the Cheshire PolitiCat scolds you in a husky, purring voice. Stop being a demagogue about this very important issue, it says.

But buses and subways have wheels! you shout. Where are the wheels?

Don’t you remember what Humpty Dumpty told you? asks the PolitiCat. “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” The word “voucher” can mean whatever they choose it to mean. It can even mean “bus,” or “subway,” or “Medicare.” Words are very nonpartisan.

Ahem. The Cato-Pillar and the Tan Boehner cough gently. Please don’t call it a “voucher” anymore, either. We’ve decided to call it “Transportation Support.” That sound so very much more pleasant, don’t you think? PolitiCat purrs.

See, Alice? says the Tan Boehner. You’re not holding a piece of paper anymore. It’s a “train” or a “bus.” The one in your hand is the Number Nine to Main Street. He salutes it smartly. And I’m holding the Uptown Local. He moves it along the floor, making little engine noises with his mouth.

You toss the pieces of paper into the air. The Cato-Pillar and the Tan Boehner fall to their hands and knees, the PolitiCat on its haunches beside them. Grab them! they all cry. Someone shouts, The Midtown Express is getting crushed! They all weep softly. A twelve-car subway train just blew down the street like confetti, they say.

They’re not really buses or subways, you say. They’re just vouchers.

You’re playing word games about a very important subject, says the PolitiCat. The Newspaper People nod their papery heads in agreement. Some “moderate” human chess pieces, who are really Democrats standing in the center of a tilted chessboard, stand up and shout in chorus: We agree!

The PolitiCat hisses,You must treat the vouchers as if they were really buses and subways. It holds up a wrinkled piece of paper with its paw. Now tell this train you’re sorry, it says. These are very serious people, say the Newspaper People. They applaud, but all that can be heard is the rustle of crumpling paper.

I think I’m in hell, you say. I can’t take any more.

You mean you can’t take any less! the Cato-Pillar and the Tan Boehner say cheerfully. Remember when the Mad Hatter said that to you? Now we’re saying it too. After all, they chuckle, you sure can’t take any less than we’ll give you!

I won’t believe you! you shout. This piece of paper (you hold the voucher in the air) is not a bus!

They shake their heads and look at you disapprovingly. I’m sorry, they say, but you’ve just repeated “the Lie of the Year.”

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