Cooperation and Distinguishing the General from the Specific

By | 2012/09/06

The New York Daily News ran an article from the Associated Press on fact-checking former president Bill Clinton’s speech last night at the Democratic National Convention. Usually, I would simply quote relevant sections, but given the Associated Press’ litigious approach to being quoted on blogs, I will have to recommend that you open the link above in a new tab or window and look for yourself.

The AP article claims that Clinton was guilty of mischaracterizing and cherry-picking, saying that they would provide several examples. The first example? An examination of Clinton discussing cooperation, where they identify the following section of Clinton’s speech as a problem.

When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better. After all, nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. All of us are destined to live our lives between those two extremes. Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is the enemy and compromise is weakness. One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation.

The AP then proceeds to establish a case that “both parties” are responsible for inflexibility and lack of cooperation in government today, something that they are able to establish in short order. Along the way, they note the “grand bargain” budget deal reached between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner. That deal laid out spending cuts and tax increases that attracted the opposition of both parties, thus the proposal failed. The AP notes Obama being the impetus for the creation of a bipartisan congressional commission whose recommendations were not endorsed due to intransigence of the two parties. At the risk of getting sued, I feel I need to quote the AP’s conclusion of this exercise in “fact-checking”. Let’s hope “fair use” is still in vogue in the courts.

The problem with compromising in Washington is that there are few true moderates left in either party. The notion that Republicans are the only ones standing in the way of compromise is inaccurate.

Blink.

Yes, Clinton did mention the Republican Party in this context. One might fault Clinton, as the AP does, for not also mentioning a certain level of intransigence in his own party as an omission. Clinton’s subsidiary claim about the Republican Party, taken on its own, is not assailable, and the AP carefully avoided even broaching that topic. But the AP does not address the actual point that Clinton was making. The AP actually demonstrated in two examples of interaction with the legislature that Clinton’s point, specifically that one person, President Obama, has demonstrated commitment to cooperation, is true. The fact that efforts toward cooperation can fail despite one person’s willingness to engage and compromise is not acknowledged by the AP. Instead, they assign fault to Obama because factions in both parties could not agree to the compromises on the table. Clinton contrasts the intransigence of a faction of one party (something the AP wisely does not dispute, and even stipulates in its conclusion) with one person’s willingness to compromise (which the AP documents), yet the AP concludes Clinton erred here.

This is fact-checking? I don’t think so.

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