lies, damned lies, and…politics

As a mathematically inclined young man, it is quite joyous for me to tutor statistics. There is much ground to cover in the discrete domain alone – indeed, many methods to traverse through in gathering, calculating, and interpreting data. Of course, said methods are potentially laborious outside of programs like Microsoft Excel (though I love teaching the concepts the old-fashioned way – by hand).

The point to this, you ask?

It’s very simple: when a person or party has a problem with the results of a statistical study, they search for biases or other variables which undermine said study’s credibility. Generation after generation has heard this familiar tune in some form or another:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

(Emphasis mine.)

Give two different people the same set of data and, except they agree, watch for wildly different interpretations of said data. What then of politics?

Dearest me, where to begin?

Let’s begin with the lies:

You lie!

If you’ve followed all the hoopla about President Obama’s proposed health care overhaul plan, then you definitely heard Rep. Joe Wilson’s exclamation. But what was the lie? Simple: according to Wilson and others, it was President Obama’s assertion that illegal immigrants would not receive federally subsidized health care under his plan.

As we saw, the exclamation elicited shock and a mild chorus of jeers – and of course, demands for an apology.

Wilson would later apologize to the President, who would accept his apology.

But that was not enough; last night, the House of Representatives passed a resolution which formally admonished Wilson for his outburst (link to story here). Apology accepted, indeed! Now, I too thought that Wilson’s exclamation was rude and improper, but the issue should have died when he apologized to Pres. Obama. Instead, we have this reprimand – a glorified waste of time in my view.

Unfortunately, the politicking doesn’t end there; mired in the health care debate is the issue of illegal immigration. Consider the following snippet from the linked article:

The dispute did draw a spotlight to the issue of benefits for illegal immigrants. Senators trying to negotiate a bipartisan deal, with the endorsement of the White House, are moving to craft a compromise bill that strengthens verification requirements. That could please some Republicans but also antagonize Hispanic lawmakers sensitive to rules making it harder for people to obtain health care.

(Emphasis mine.)

Notice the language here. The issue is benefits for illegal immigrants under Obama’s plan. Thus, when referring to Hispanic lawmakers’ sensitivity to “rules making it harder for people to obtain health care,” the association is clear; the people referenced here are the illegal immigrants! What other people are they talking about here, given the context of this particular issue? What continually irks me is the continuous association between Hispanics and illegal immigration, as though:

  • Immigration were the central issue common to all, or most Hispanics, and
  • Drawing “the Hispanic vote” meant showing support for illegal immigrants.

For the record, I am against illegal immigration; I also believe that we must take steps to cut illegal immigration – and not just from Mexico, either.

And my view on health care reform? Methinks reform is needed, but I believe large-scale reform should not be rushed, lest a murky mess be further convolved, leaving the root of the problem unsolved. The root, of course, pertains to all the imperfections of the current health care system, including prescribing drugs for just about anything, as well as the various abuses that occur both with respect to patient care and to finances.

Now toss in the many debates over elderly care and the so-called “death panels,” the astronomical long-term cost of this plan, the public option and the government takeover hysteria, and you get…well…politics.

For these reasons and more shall I take statistics over politics any day. Lies? Mayhap. Damned lies? Plausible.

At least numbers can say something meaningful. Here’s to hoping politicians one day do the same – and mean it!

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