Critical Thinking Revisited

For those of us who care about politics, there is an element of emotion that accompanies our perspectives on where the country is and where we think it should be going. I am often reminded that it is important to always keep our critical thinking skills at the forefront and not just listen to what reinforces our preconceived notions. Perhaps it is more important when those messages are coming from those we see as holding similar views.

In a politically polarized environment, there are those who try to manipulate with emotion. Both sides are guilty of such. In fact, I just opt-ed out of e-mails from because the e-mail I received from them was just a lie – plain and simple. A conservative friend of mine posted a link from Fox Business that reinforced his feelings on where the country is. It provided me an opportunity to do some critical analysis on the story, snippets of which I posted back on Facebook. Here is the link:

Especially if you are of a conservative mindset, read the story and see how many factually incorrect or manipulative things you can find in the story.

The title of the article is “Government Cash Handouts Now Top Tax Revenues”, but that’s only true if you accept a very broad definition of what a cash handout is. According to the story it includes “stimulus spending, among other things.” I wonder what the “other things” they included to make the numbers fit the premise, but certainly stimulus spending doesn’t belong there. According to Glenn Beck[1] (hey, a fella’s got to have a sense of humor), a third of the stimulus money is in tax breaks. The Washington Post – that bastion of liberal media – reports that 22% of the stimulus money is in tax breaks[2]. Pick your number, but if conservatives started considering tax breaks as “cash handouts,” the political discourse would change radically. It should also be noted that as of September 2010, only 70% of the allocated money had been spent. I suspect Fox’s number included the entire appropriation.

The report states that 59% of Americans get at least one federal benefit. Again, we have to look at what is included. The story included veteran’s benefits in that. It’s a benefit, of course, but including that in the category of a “cash handout” strikes me as odd.

The bigger problem with this assertion is the math. If you total the number of people in the stated categories – Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc. , you get 183.2 million Americans. If you divide that by the population of 308.7 million, you get 59% of the American population, so the math works, right? Wrong. There is considerable overlap in the people getting those various benefits, so they counted people multiple times. This story clearly has no credibility – and I am only at paragraph five.

Standing on the lilliputian shoulders of contrived premises and her failure at ninth grade math, Fox Business reporter, Elizabeth MacDonald has all of the ammunition she needs to assert that the government is responsible for wealth growth and that capitalism is doomed.

Of course, I picked low-hanging fruit, Fox News, to show how critical thinking can change the conclusions we reach from biased op-ed organizations. Material from other organizations is harder to critique, but we should do so, regardless of whether we are reading, an article in the New Yorker or a report from the Heritage Foundation.

There are serious fiscal problems in the country that require changes in the entitlement programs and changes in the tax laws and the rate structure. It can’t happen without political will and the political will won’t coalesce until we, the electorate, get out of our echo chambers and start to critically think about the problems that face us and the solutions are are available to us.




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