You can prove anything with a good map and a few facts

Take a good look at the map below. It is a county-by-county accounting of the 2008 presidential election. The red counties are Republicans; the blue are Democrats. The map is widely available to anyone on the Internet and if you want to dig deeper into the numbers, you can visit the board of elections website for any county. Fascinating stuff really.

2008 Election results map by county

The map was recently used by Chip Wood on the ultra-Conservative web site as a way to explain that the Democrats really did not win the election by land mass or by population and that the United States of America is being governed by a minority voice. Fair enough.

Here is what is really going on. Rush Limbaugh uses this technique, so does Glenn Beck. So do many other Conservative bloggers and commentators.

They first start out by presenting a map or chart or even a single fact that can’t be disputed. You can look up the election results by county and you would see that Wood is 100% accurate. And then they slide in another fact that can’t be disputed like a calculation of county by land mass per each side. Here is where this all gets a bit fuzzy, but since these are still verifiable facts, you don’t see the slight transition of “truth” happening. To make sure their map or chart sticks, they use an exact number that is truthful, but misleading. In this case, Wood uses population to cement the fact that 143 million people were cheated out of their rightful place by 127 million people. Here is the little, itty, bitty flaw in that last statement.

While it may be true that 143 million people live in the red counties (I didn’t look it up, but I could easily verify it) it assumes by inference that all of those people living there were eligible or chose to vote and if they did, they would vote red. The assertion by inference was that 100% of each red county voted red and 100% of each blue county voted blue. That is not the case. It could have been 51% red and 49% blue, which means it was a red county. But the vote only counts people who actually got out and voted. Had 100% of the people voted, chances are good that the vote still would have been split about the same. But, there is really no way to tell.

What we probably should count in square acreage is not the actual acreage the county claims, but the amount of ground underneath each voter’s feet that a vote claimed. But then, counties with voters who have larger than average feet would throw off the numbers. I digress.

But the really good commentators who use this method know they are getting a nod from their audience at this point because they have used facts that are indisputable and a couple that stretched a conclusion based on the indisputable fact. Emboldened by their ability to mesmerize their audience, they now are free to assert their own assumptions. In Wood’s case, he asserts that the “overwhelming majority of voters in the red areas pay more into government than they receive; while … The majority of people [in blue areas] receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes.” He goes further by saying that 45 percent of adults pay no income tax, inferring it is those blue area deadbeats who are not paying their fair share.

Wait a minute. How does he know that? There is no data provided in his article that allows his to make such a sweeping generalization. Besides, taking government comes in many forms. I offer this as an example. Yet few would argue that police and firefighting are government that is being doled out. But it is.

Let’s take a look at another example, and in full disclosure, I admit I did not do the research on what I am about to posit; I only offer it to get you thinking about alternative ways data can be presented and interpreted. If anyone wants to do the research, please have at it!

Let’s overlay a map of Walmart’s expansion on our political map, not Walmart locations as they are now, but as they expanded from Bentonville, AR. What we likely to see is an expansion into red areas on the political map. With each store location, Walmart negotiated tax incentives from the local governments in exchange for promises of jobs. In return, the citizens were promised lower prices for their goods and services. Explain to me how this is not deriving a government benefit? It may be convoluted and the check certainly does not arrive in the mail, written on a US Treasury account, but it is a benefit of government taxation nonetheless. And one of the worse kind; negotiated by a corporation whose primary interest is in making as much profit as possible at the expense of the government and the community.

Let’s look at another example. Few farmers are being paid to not plant. That once may have been the case, but it is really not true any more. What is more likely is huge expanse of farmland has been bought up by companies who mechanize farming and food production. Many of these companies take government subsidizes to plant corn for Ethanol production or corn syrup that enables us to keep food production costs and prices low. Without subsidies, farming companies would most likely sell the food to the highest bidder, many times this might even be a foreign nation. Subsidies to American farmers ensures the food will be used here first. Again these subsidies are not written out to individuals from the US Treasury as personal checks so it is easy for them to believe they are not getting any benefit for their tax dollars.

Or I could be making all this up as I go. Does it really matter? You’d believe anything cause I have a map.

By now, the commentator has wrapped himself in the flag and the duties, rights and responsibility of patriotism and inferring that anyone who doesn’t agree with his set of “facts” is a traitor. Having been grifted of their sense of logical argument faster than Addie Loggins passed twenty dollar bills in Paper Moon, the masses all nod in agreement. Having established credibility with the audience, the commentator continues making more and more outlandish claims, pointing to his established arguments just proved moments ago as proof.

Stay critical of anything you are told; left, right or center. Verify your own facts and make sure you draw conclusions from the long view, not just from a snapshot of history such an election map.

You are now free to pummel me with unsubstantiated facts, your grossly warped opinion or here-say you heard over the back yard fence from Aunty Mabel. Fair warning though, if you have not seen Paper Moon and are unfamiliar with the reference, you are disqualified as being too young to have a long enough view of history to be taken seriously.


2 Replies to “You can prove anything with a good map and a few facts”

  1. It’s just more lies told by those who tout the capitalist party line. That’s not a very sophisticated response, but it’s what comes to mind. The sad thing is that so few really understand the true game being played here.

    One of the things that stuck in my mind when I flirted with philosophy for a while as a very young man was Socrates’ definition of justice, which he defined as protecting the weak from the powerful. The powerful man has no need of justice, Socrates said, because he makes his own.

    Later, of course, we had Herbert Spencer with his “survival of the fittest,” which capitalists then took as a moral imperative to conduct their affairs in any way that suits them, which is really all that’s going on in this much vaunted “free marketplace.” I have never quite understood the “freedom” involved in replacing a “government bureaucrat” with a monopoly, but people tend not to delve too deeply into that sort of thing.

    Really, the free world they wish to provide for us existed for most of the nineteenth century and on into the early decades of the twentieth. The Robber Baron era. And eventually, because who can be against freedom, we will be back to that. Personally, I am quite glad that I am 65, not 25, because the prospect before us is bleak indeed.

  2. @joseph There is a lot of confusion that equates capitalism with democracy, or what Conservatives are now trying to relabel as Free Market. I suppose as long as you can work “free” into something, it is democratic and good. Our economy has migrated from the costly manufacturing model to one only of transactions, where profit is derived from moving money. And the money isn’t even physical money, just numbers in a bank account somewhere. With “too big to fail” and defining corporations as people with First Amendment rights, we no longer have to be wary of the government taking over our lives. We should be worrying about the larger corporations. As of now, the only “Death Panels” that exist are medical review boards on staff with major insurance companies whose profit motives favor the sick patient dying quickly. That one fact alone should scare Conservatives into reason, but it doesn’t as most feel they are immune to decisions reserved only for the riff-raff. If you are deprived of money in America, you are riff-raff, regardless of how much you had contributed in the past.

Comments are closed.