JACK SPENCER: Selective tunnel vision, the art of the half truth

Half truths contain elements of reality that complicate refutation. That’s why a half truth is worse than a lie. In addition, the art of the half truth is a longstanding technique of political rhetoric.

Perhaps the most recognizable form of this is when government officials suggest that, if they don’t get what they want, there will be dire consequences. The classic example is when local officials want voters to pass revenue enhancements, such as tax hikes or bond proposals.

“If this doesn’t pass, we might have lay-off policeman and fireman,” the voters are told. “Public safety is at stake.” Sound familiar? In fact, this scenario has been played out so many times that it has often been parodied in literature and movies.

Of course, in many — if not most — cases the full list of options officials would face, if the the measure is defeated, includes making cuts voters might not consider distressing.

Scaring voters with bleak scenarios is a long-trusted and often used technique. Obviously, if the officials said “if this or that doesn’t pass, we’ll have to get rid of unnecessary programs and do things more efficiently,” then they wouldn’t get the desired reaction.

A recent example of this involves Medicaid expansion, which at the state level, is this year’s top issue pertaining to Obamacare. Simply put, states that do the expansion are cooperating with the federal government’s efforts to implement Obamacare; states that refuse to do the expansion aren’t. Rejecting the expansion is saying to the feds — “Look, do what you’re going to do, but don’t expect us to get tangled up in it.”

Gov. Rick Snyder wants Michigan to do the expansion. He says he dislikes Obamacare, but it’s the law of the land. Before criticizing him too much for this, keep in mind that at this juncture the choices left open regarding Obamacare are all bad ones.

Meanwhile,the GOP-controlled legislature is resiting going along with the expansion. However, they’re under tremendous pressure to give in.

Recently a story emerged in the news media that “inaction” on Medicaid expansion could result in about 26,000 extremely poor childless adults without disabilities losing access to health care in 2014.

This is a half truth. It sets up the premise that, if the lawmakers don’t pass Medicaid expansion, 26,000 people will be put at risk. But that could only happen if the legislature doesn’t pass the expansion and then officials sit on their hands and do nothing.

That’s not what has happened in other states that have rejected Medicaid expansion. Instead, they’ve have made various adjustments to try to cope as best they can. If the expansion isn’t passed by the legislature, Michigan officials would be forced to adjust also. That would include finding other avenues to cover the 26,000 who are supposedly threatened.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s approach was to reject the expansion and then reduce the number of people on Medicaid. He’s doing this by directing them toward the Obamacare exchange. He figures that — though not a good deal —  the exchange at least offers some individuals a little more flexibility, while Medicaid gives them none. Again, all of these options are between bad and worse - but that’s what state governors are stuck with.

Michigan isn’t Wisconsin and no one is suggesting it should adopt Walker’s plan. But the point is that, if Medicaid expansion is rejected by the legislature, policy makers would come up with alternative that fits Michigan.

For those who are now confused, don’t feel too bad. Yes, both Wisconsin and Michigan rejected cooperating with the federal government on the exchanges. However, that doesn’t mean there will be no exchanges. It just means the exchanges won’t be handled at the state level. It will be up to the federal government to do the exchanges --— if it can.

Interestingly, the Medicaid expansion debate provides an instructive example of the difference between the thinking process of conservatives and liberals. To try to get states to expand Medicaid, the federal government is offering each state hundreds of millions of dollars for Medicaid up front. After the first three years of the expansion, the federal government would supposedly keep funding 90 percent of Medicaid.

Ask liberals, conservatives and everyone in between if they trust politicians. A vast majority will respond with a resounding “no.” But go a step or two beyond that, and the patterns of their thinking processes diverge.

To liberals, when the federal government promises 90 percent of the funding for Medicaid on into the future — that means it will definitely happen — it’s carved in granite. To the conservative mind, it means nothing of the sort — especially when the federal government is $17 trillion in debt.

Here’s another example of a political half truth. This one takes place annually. There are certain things we’ve come to expect every April. Baseball season gets under way, tax day comes, the Masters golf tournament takes place and, for horse racing fans — the top contenders for the Kentucky Derby begin to emerge.

The pay equity crowd also emerges every April, trumpeting the claim that women earn less than men for doing the same jobs. This is a half truth. As a group, women earn less than men, but not for doing the same jobs.

Statistics used to make the “pay gap” claim typically reflect overall gender earnings comparisons. Closer examination of the data is purposely avoided. The truth is that, as a group, men earn more than women as the result of millions of individual decisions.

Warren Ferrell was on the board of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). He was the only man ever elected three times to the NOW board in New York City.

But the folks at NOW don’t like Ferrell anymore. He authored a book titled: “Why Men Earn More.”

According to Farrell, women are more likely to choose fulfilling jobs, while their male counterparts are more likely to go for the money. Some readers might recall examples of this they know of personally. This columnist certainly can.

Now for the next question. If we wanted to change this societal situation, who should make the change, men or women?

Ferrell wrote that he came to his conclusions by studying data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He also claims that labor statistics show that, as a group, women work less hours than men work.

Fact or not, the hours worked data is something men should quickly discard, toss away, forget and bury. It leads to arguments that should be avoided at all costs.

What pay equity crowd is really after is pay based on comparative worth. That means having government subjectively determining salary levels. This is a concept that would place government in the ultimate parental role.

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.